A Russian company known as Federal Agency of News, LLC (FAN), whose accountant was indicted by federal prosecutors for her alleged role in “Project Lakhta” – a Russian interference operation in political and electoral systems targeting populations in, among other places, the United States – has sued Facebook alleging it is a legitimate news outlet whose Facebook account must be restored.
On November 20, 2018, FAN and its sole shareholder, Evgeniy Zubarev, commenced suit against Facebook in the United States District Court, Northern District of California, alleging Facebook’s deletion of FAN’s Facebook account and posts was in breach of Facebook’s Terms of Service and in violation of FAN’s constitutionally protected rights under the First Amendment.
Specifically, FAN alleges that in April 2018, after the United States Intelligence Community issued its report regarding alleged Russian activities in the 2016 presidential election, its web page on Facebook was blocked and its account deleted. This corresponded with a blog post by Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, which was posted the same day FAN’s account was deleted, explaining the rationale behind Facebook’s decision to remove more than 270 Russian language accounts and pages from its platform. FAN was allegedly advised via e-mail from Facebook that its decision to delete FAN’s account and page was based on FAN’s alleged violation Facebook’s Terms of Service. FAN’s complaint specifically cites to the following terms Facebook purports were violated: “pages containing threats, offensive or indecent content are prohibited” and “[p]ages aimed against another user or group of users, as well as Pages created by an unauthorized user will be deleted.” FAN asserts Facebook’s conduct constitutes censorship, and that by prohibits public access to FAN’s page, Facebook is in fact attempting to influence public media coverage of political events in Russia.
FAN asserts that it is a legitimate news organization which adheres to journalistic standards and publishes reports that are relevant and of interest to the general public. While it concedes it employed Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova – the alleged chief accountant for “Project Lakhta” Russian accountant who charged by prosecutors for attempting to meddle in the 2018 congressional elections – FAN alleges her role with the organization was limited, and that she was not involved in any news production.
As relief, FAN is requesting an injunction preventing Facebook from blocking public access to FAN’s account, as well as both compensatory and punitive damages.