Facebook Sued By Outlet Over “State-Controlled Media” Label

On Wednesday, social media and e-commerce company, Maffick LLC, which operates three social media channels “In the Now,” “Soapbox,” and “Waste-Ed” on Facebook and Instagram, filed a complaint against Facebook in the Northern District of California for allegedly falsely posting a “Russia state-controlled media” label on its social media channels, including on its pages and posts. Maffick LLC is a Los Angeles based company, solely owned by Anissa Naouai, that “focuses on social media optimization and brand development.”

On May 18, Maffick was contacted by Facebook, who “threatened to shut down all of its social media pages by May 22,2020, unless Maffick posted a disclosure on all of its accounts stating that Maffick was ‘a brand of Maffick Media, which is owned and operated by Ruptly GmbH, a subsidiary of RT news,” a Russia state-funded news organization. However, Maffick asserted that it is not owned and operated by Ruptly and is not a brand of Maffick Media. Instead, it is owned and operated by Anissa Naouai. Maffick added that “Ruptly is a part-owner of the inactive German entity, Maffick Media, in which Ms. Naouai owned a 49% interest. Maffick Media no longer does business of any kind.” Specifically, in July 2019, Naouai “formed an entirely new entity known as Maffick LLC, a Delaware company in which neither Maffick Media nor Ruptly has any involvement.” Despite the similar name, the plaintiff claimed there is no association between the two entities. Maffick’s Facebook pages were suspended in 2019 after a CNN investigation revealed ties to RT. 

Maffick responded, informing Facebook that the pages were owned by an independent company, Maffick LLC and “that complying with Facebook’s demand that it disclose publicly that it was ‘owned and operated by Ruptly GmbH, a subsidiary of RT news’ would require Maffick to post inaccurate information.” Out of concern that Facebook would shut down its pages completely as it had threatened, Maffick posted the purportedly false statement, “Affiliated with RT,” in its about section for Soapbox’s Facebook and Instagram pages “as a temporary, stop-gap measure.”

Facebook announced on June 4 that it planned “to label media outlets that are wholly or partially under the editorial control of their government.” Facebook defined “government controlled” to include financial and editorial control. Maffick claimed that on June 5, Facebook published a notice on the “Page Transparency” section of Maffick’s three social media channels “indicating that each page is ‘Russia state-controlled media,’” without first contacting Maffick. However, Maffick claimed that this notice now appears on every social media post and sponsored or e-commerce posts made by its three channels, which gives “the impression that the products are connected or associated with, or originate from, the Russian government.” Meanwhile, Maffick alleged that this “[n]otice is false. Maffick is not controlled operationally or editorially by the Russian government or by Russian state entities or officials.” This notice has allegedly resulted in negative comments on Maffick’s pages and posts and hurt its reputation.

Facebook responded to Maffick’s pleas on July 20, stating that it would not take down the notice, but “proposed that Maffick resolve its dispute over the false Russia state-controlled media designation through Facebook’s internal appeal process.” However, Maffick already appealed the notice at the end of June. Maffick also wanted Facebook to remove the notice on its pages, pending the appeal over concerns about the length and time period of the appeal process, but Facebook rejected these proposals. Maffick claimed that Facebook should have known it is not a Russia state-controlled entity. Additionally, Maffick asserted that it has been harmed by these false labels.

Maffick has sought injunctive, equitable and declaratory relief, award for damages, and other relief.

Maffick is represented by TroyGould PC.