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Republican Rep. Devin Nunes Files $250 Million Lawsuit Against Twitter

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Last night, Sean Hannity made an announcement on his show on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW")

SEAN HANNITY: Former Intel Committee chairman, Congressman Devin Nunes, filed a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter in Virginia state court, alleging the social media company negligently failed to remove defamatory and malicious tweets about the congressman and his family.

KELLY: On the program, the congressman called this suit the first of many.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW")

DEVIN NUNES: What we're doing here is we're actually going after Twitter first because they are the main proliferator, and they spread this fake news and the slanderous news.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The suit also names various Twitter accounts, including ones called @DevinCow - Nunes grew up on a dairy farm - and another one called @DevinNunesMom - accounts that have been, well, less than kind to the congressman.

KELLY: The lawsuit claims that Nunes has endured, quote, "an orchestrated defamation campaign, one that no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life."

DERIGAN SILVER: I mean, there's tons of problems with it.

CHANG: Derigan Silver, a media law professor at the University of Denver, says it is hard for a public figure to prove defamation.

SILVER: Anybody who holds an office that people vote on - whether they be the president of the United States or the local dog catcher - then you are automatically a public official. And all public officials have to prove actual malice. So if you say something about a public official and you get sued for it, you don't have to prove what you said was true. They have to prove what you said was false.

KELLY: And on top of that, websites are really hard to sue.

SILVER: There is federal statutory law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides, like, super, super broad exemptions to all websites for any information that is posted by a third party. And the case law there is rock-solid.

CHANG: A spokesperson for Twitter has said the company is not commenting on the lawsuit.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRENT REZNOR AND ATTICUS ROSS' "IN MOTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.