SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – Facebook can’t be sued for blocking from its network a Russian news agency with alleged connections to a plot to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a federal judge has ruled.
Over the weekend, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh found Facebook is immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act of 1997, which protects online publishers from lawsuits based on third party-created content.
The Federal Agency of News, a St. Petersburg-based media outlet, sued Facebook in November 2018, claiming its account was abruptly deleted for “violating” the social network’s terms of service. The news outlet claims Facebook’s true motive was to silence dissent and discriminate against it based on “Russian nationality and/or Russian ethnicity.”
Facebook said it disabled the account due to the news agency’s associations with Russian trolls that set up fake accounts to spread misinformation.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted the news agency’s founder and chief accountant in 2018 for alleged connections to the “information warfare” campaign. The Federal Agency of News says its accountant, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, who denies any wrongdoing, is merely a bookkeeper with no control over the content. The news outlet further maintains that its founder and former director, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova, has not been involved with the organization since 2014.
Koh found that even if Facebook had disabled the news agency’s account for discriminatory reasons, the company is protected from liability as a publisher of third-party content.
Koh cited the Ninth Circuit’s 2008 en banc decision in Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com LLC, which held that “activity that can be boiled down to deciding whether to exclude material that third parties seek to post online” is immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act.
She gave the Federal Agency of News and its director Evgeniy Lvovich Zubarev 30 days to file an amended complaint.
Lawyers for Facebook and the Federal Agency of News did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.
Facebook is represented by Rosemarie Ring of Munger, Tolles & Olson in San Francisco. The Federal Agency of News is represented by Dennis Boyle of Whiteford Taylor & Preston in Washington.