Dominion Voting Systems is suing President Donald Trump’s former attorney Sidney Powell for spreading unfounded conspiracy theories about its election equipment. The long-awaited defamation suit could test the impact of legal attacks on disinformation.
As NBC News reported this morning, Dominion sued Powell for making a series of “wild” and “demonstrably false” accusations that spread across right-wing media outlets and major social networks. Powell was responsible for a series of legally dubious challenges that she dubbed the “kraken,” but she failed to substantiate their allegations — which included false claims that Dominion had rigged voting machines to favor President-elect Joe Biden as part of a plot involving deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
Powell promoted her claims through a variety of right-wing news outlets, including Fox News and One America News Network. “Countless media outlets and social media users foreseeably republished and disseminated the viral disinformation campaign about Dominion,” the complaint reads. This led to calls for Dominion employees to be killed or imprisoned, including direct threats. “Since the beginning of the viral disinformation campaign, Dominion has spent more than $565,000 on private security for the protection of its people,” the company says. It’s also allegedly spent more than $1.1 million repairing harm to its reputation.
Dominion contacted several of the conspiracy theory’s proponents last year, requesting a retraction. It told Powell that “as a result of Powell’s false accusations, Dominion had suffered enormous harm and its employees had been stalked, had been harassed, and had received death threats.” Some news outlets appeared responsive to its legal threats. Fox News, for instance, aired a segment admitting that its claims about Dominion had no evidence. But in the words of the complaint, Powell “doubled down” on her attacks, tweeting that she was “retracting nothing.”
The Trump administration spread a raft of false narratives attempting to undermine Biden’s election victory. Many of those claims have persisted long after being debunked, and earlier this week, they led a mob of Trump supporters to overrun the US Capitol — leading to at least five deaths, including one police officer.
As New York Times media columnist Ben Smith wrote in December, Dominion’s lawsuit could make it riskier for high-profile figures to knowingly and repeatedly spread unfounded conspiracy theories — particularly if those theories spin out of control online.
Dominion is requesting $1.3 billion in compensation and a removal of Powell’s claims. Its suit follows a similar complaint by an individual Dominion employee who was harassed because of the Trump campaign’s false claims.