The Facebook Inc. logo is reflected in the eyeglasses of a user in this arranged photo in San Francisco, California, U.S. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Facebook's Fake News War Has Russian Site Crying Censorship

(Bloomberg) -- A self-proclaimed Russian media outlet called Federal Agency of News accused Facebook Inc. of censorship for shutting down its account, saying the world’s largest social network has gone overboard in its crackdown on fake news.

The U.S. government and Facebook have linked the site to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm that Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted for alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But Federal Agency of News and its main proprietor say in a lawsuit that while the two outlets operated out of the same building from 2014 to 2015, they have nothing to do with each other.

Facebook's Fake News War Has Russian Site Crying Censorship

Holding itself out as one of the most popular websites in Russia, FAN calls itself an “independent, authentic and legitimate news agency which publishes reports that a relevant and of interest to the general public,” according to the complaint, which was filed Tuesday in San Francisco federal court.

“The only similarity between FAN and any similar accounts Facebook contends to be ‘inauthentic’ and controlled by the IRA is their national origin and that of their members,” FAN said.

Saint Petersburg-based FAN contends Facebook has been under so much pressure from the U.S. government to purge inappropriate activity by Russian users that the company has blocked hundreds of legitimate accounts. FAN seeks a court order to force Facebook to reinstate its account.

“Facebook, while claiming to protect the public from ‘fake news’ is actually engaging in censorship and denying FAN subscribers of access to a legitimate news organization,” according to the complaint.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

FAN’s founder, Alexsandra Yurievna Krylova, was indicted by Mueller in February for her work for the IRA from September 2013 to November 2014. But Krylova had not worked with FAN for at least three years before the indictment, according to the complaint.

The organization also denies any ties to Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, whose indictment for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. was unsealed in Virginia federal court in October, or to Project Lakhta, a Russian political interference operation.

FAN has funded the website USAReally.com, which publishes news about American politics along with editorials. A banner on the page titled “Zuckerberg Wanted” calls for former Facebook account holders who’ve been blocked from the site to sue the social media giant, while offering a $5,000 reward for anyone with definitive evidence of American censorship on any social media channel.

The case is Federal Agency of News LLC v. Facebook Inc., U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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