Representative Devin Nunes recently filed a high-profile $250 million lawsuit against Twitter and some of its users, alleging defamation and negligence. But, so far at least, the move appears to have backfired.
One of the Twitter accounts Nunes is suing, a parody account under the name @devincow, attracted hundreds of thousands of followers in the days following news of the lawsuit. The account, whose posts claim to come from a fictitious cow owned by Nunes, now boasts 413,000 followers, more than Nunes’s own follower count of 395,000.
Nunes, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, alleges Twitter is “knowingly hosting and monetizing content that is clearly abusive, hateful and defamatory — providing both a voice and financial incentive to the defamers — thereby facilitating defamation on its platform.”
The case appears to be a textbook example of what’s known as the Streisand Effect. The phenomenon, named for Barbra Streisand, occurs when an embarrassing or damaging thing becomes more visible than it would have been if a person had not taken steps to hide it.
It was coined by writer Mike Masnick in the wake of a 2003 lawsuit by Streisand that sought to suppress a photo of her Malibu, Calif., home published by the California Coastal Records Project, which she claimed violated her privacy. Her lawsuit made news and subsequently drew many more visitors to the site hosting the photo than it probably would have without the lawsuit.
In addition to the defamation claims, Nunes’s suit also accuses Twitter of censoring ‘‘viewpoints with which it disagrees’’ and ‘‘shadow-banning conservatives.’’
Shadow-banning allows users to post freely — but no one else sees their messages. Twitter has denied doing it, although some political conservatives —including President Trump — remain unconvinced.