Russian 'News' Agency Renews Claims Against Facebook

Aiming to revive a lawsuit against Facebook, the Russian company Federal Agency of News claims in new court papers that its account was removed as a result of a “conspiracy” between the social networking platform and the U.S. government.

“Facebook ... acts at the behest of the government of the United States in its attempts to regulate free speech,” the organization writes in an amended complaint filed last week against Facebook. “This agreement between Facebook and the U.S. government constitutes a conspiracy to deny the [Federal Agency of News] its free speech rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.”

The dispute between Facebook and the Russian company dates to last year, when the social networking service removed 70 accounts it believed were controlled by the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed company that engages in online influence operations for the Russian government. The Federal Agency of News was among those accounts.

U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California dismissed the lawsuit last month. She ruled that Facebook wasn't a government entity, and therefore wasn't bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on censorship. Koh also ruled that the Communications Decency Act immunizes Facebook from liability for decisions about how to treat content created by outside parties, like the Federal Agency of News.

The ruling was without prejudice, meaning that the Russian company could refashion its complaint and bring it again.

The Russian company acknowledges in its complaint that its accountant, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, was indicted for conspiring to manipulate elections in the U.S. But the organization -- which described itself in the complaint as “a legitimate news organization that adheres to journalistic standards in its publications” -- says Khusyaynova was merely a bookkeeper.

In its amended complaint, filed last week, the Russian company repeats many of the same allegations contained in the original lawsuit.

But the company also adds some new allegations, including that Facebook conspired with the government, and that Facebook is itself a “public forum” -- meaning that it is comparable to a city park or other public venue where the government can't censor speech based on its content.

While some judges have ruled that specific social media accounts operated by government officials -- including President Trump -- can be public forums, no courts have ruled that the platforms themselves are public forums. On the contrary, judges have repeatedly ruled that Facebook and other tech companies are free to decide how to treat content on their sites.

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