Twitter Stands Up For Devin Nunes' Parody Accounts: Won't Reveal Who's Behind Them

from the good-for-twitter dept

A couple weeks ago, we noted that the judge in Virginia presiding over Devin Nunes’ bullshit censorial lawsuit against Twitter, some parody Twitter accounts, and political strategist Liz Mair, had demanded that Twitter reveal to the judge who was behind the two parody accounts (for “Devin Nunes’ Cow” and “Devin Nunes’ Mom.”) As we pointed out at the time, this request was highly unusual. Yes, the judge was in the process of determining if the case did not belong in Virginia, so he wanted to know if the people behind the accounts were based in Virginia, but there are ways to do that that protect the anonymity of the account holders (anonymity being a 1st Amendment right). Specifically, he could have just asked whether or not the account holders appeared to be based in Virginia.

We also wondered if Twitter would refuse the request — as it has done in the past. And the answer is yes. Twitter has told the judge it won’t comply, but did say that neither of the account holders lived in Virginia — which should satisfy the only legal reason why the judge might want to know who they were.

Twitter on Wednesday told the judge it does not intend to disclose the names of the authors of accounts known as Devin Nunes? Cow and Devin Nunes? Mom, according to documents obtained by McClatchy.

?Defending and respecting the user?s voice is one of our core values at Twitter,? a Twitter spokesperson said in response to questions about the court filing. ?This value is a two-part commitment to freedom of expression and privacy.?

Twitter in a message to other defendants in the case said it told the judge that the authors of the accounts do not live or work in Virginia….

[….]

?Undersigned counsel has been in contact with lawyers who have advised Twitter that they represent, respectively, the user or users of the @DevinCow account and the user or users of the @DevinNunesMom account,? the letter states. ?Each of those counsel has authorized me to inform the Court, through this letter, that their respective client or clients do not reside or work in Virginia and never used the account while physically present in Virginia.?

This is good to see, though it remains to be seen how the judge feels about Twitter pushing back on his request. Again, the whole case is ridiculous and should be thrown out for a whole variety of reasons. But it’s already worrisome that the judge thought it was fine to unmask the parody account holders, even if he promised that he would keep the identities secret.

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Comments on “Twitter Stands Up For Devin Nunes' Parody Accounts: Won't Reveal Who's Behind Them”

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23 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Now what?

Where the judge and Nunes/his lawyer go from here should be telling. Given they’ve just been told by the lawyers for the two account holders via Twitter that they do not in fact live in virginia it would seem that undercuts the idea that that portion of the lawsuit at least should be tried in the state, as opposed to california where every other party is.

If the judge/Nunes lawyer tries to double-down to know who they are it will be pretty clearly to get the names rather than the locations, a blatant attempt to unmask the account owners rather than simply find out the appropriate venue.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

The only reason for Nunes wanting the names of the account owners at this point would be for running a public shaming/harassment campaign against them. (And running a fundraising grift for “legal fees” at the same time.) Their speech is constitutionally protected parody; Nunes would lose any lawsuit brought against them on those grounds alone. Unmasking the account owners wouldn’t change that.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Now what?

Coming from the tech side of things, the only thing I can think of them doing that doesn’t make the fishing any more obvious than it is would be to question how Twitter can be so certain. With them not requiring accurate address details to sign up, and VPNs existing, how can they really know with any degree of certainty? The only way I can think of is if the account is associated with a verified account, at which point Twitter might be forced to come up with the details to prove they’re telling the truth.

On the other hand, this would be pretty much admitting that the judge knew they were unlikely to have any concrete proof, and so makes the original demand seem even more questionable than it already does.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Now what?

“Each of those counsel has authorized me to inform the Court, through this letter, that their respective client or clients do not reside or work in Virginia and never used the account while physically present in Virginia.”

It appears the information was gathered via communication with the parties in question. That raises the likelihood that evidence was provided to Twitter’s council to satisfy them that the statement they were making was true to the limit of the evidence available when combined with IP-based geolocation of tweets.

Adrian Lopez says:

Re: Re: Now what?

You don’t have to give Twitter your real name, either, so the judge’s request for names seems even less likely to reveal useful information. I find it more likely people would use a fake name than conceal their IP address through a VPN, though either is possible. Moreover, an IP address is not the only indicator of a user’s likely place of residence: Twitter can look at the person’s phone number, which if I’m not mistaken does have to be confirmed by the user.

None of these methods are foolproof, of course, but I don’t think they have to be. In the end, either Twitter has evidence of these users living in Virginia or it doesn’t. I don’t think the defendant’s place of residence needs to be definitively established as "not Virginia" for Virginia to be the wrong forum.

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