The company Maffick, which operates the social media pages “In the Now,” “Soapbox,” and “Waste-Ed,” has sued Facebook for attaching a label reading “Russia state-controlled media” to its channels.
“Maffick’s channels are intentionally non-partisan and Maffick does not seek to represent any one point of view,” the company says in a complaint filed against Facebook last week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Maffick's claims against Facebook include libel and interference with contracts.
A Facebook spokesperson says the lawsuit is without merit, and the company will defend itself.
“We want people to know if the news they read on Facebook is coming from a publication we believe is under the control of a government and we've made public the criteria we use to make this determination,” the spokesperson stated.
Maffick says in its complaint that it's owned by Anissa Naouai, who also owned a 49% interest in the now defunct “Maffick Media.”
The majority owner of Maffick Media was Ruptly, a subsidiary of the Russian government-funded company RT.
Maffick alleges it isn't connected to Maffick Media or Ruptly.
“While Ms. Naouai chose to continuing using the 'Maffick' name for the new LLC, the company is not related to or associated with Maffick Media (or Ruptly),” the complaint alleges. “The social media pages at issue were created by Ms. Naouai, are owned by Maffick LLC, and have been continually operated and controlled by her.”
In May, Facebook allegedly threatened to remove Maffick's pages, unless it disclosed its channels were operated by RT news subsidiary Ruptly.
Maffick says it protested to Facebook, but ultimately complied due to concern “that Facebook would follow through on its threat to shut down its pages completely.”
The following month, Facebook posted notices that Maffick's pages were “Russia state-controlled media,” according to the lawsuit.
“Facebook knows or should know that the notice is false,” Maffick writes. “At the very least, it knows that its public statement that Maffick is Russia-state controlled media is based on obsolete ownership information that requires further investigation.”
Facebook said in June it was adding labels to state-controlled media outlets because it believes “people should know if the news they read is coming from a publication that may be under the influence of a government.”
The company is also banning state-controlled media outlets from advertising on Facebook, in an attempt to prevent foreign interference in the November 2020 election.
Facebook previously acknowledged its platform was used by Russian operatives who spread propaganda during the 2016 presidential election. At least 3,000 ads linked to Russian accounts ran during that election cycle. Those ads may have reached at least 146 million Facebook and Instagram users. Some of the ads favored particular candidates, but many simply sought to spread divisive messages.