Arizona State University (ASU) has sued Facebook in a US federal court over the company’s lack of cooperation in providing details and taking down an Instagram account that was advertising “Covid parties” and spreading misinformation about the school’s response to the disease, court records show.
Instagram is owned by Facebook.
The backstory: In July, ASU became aware of an Instagram account that promoted Covid-19 parties, the school said in a statement. The account urged followers to avoid social distancing, and not to wear face coverings for the upcoming fall semester.
“No more social distancing. No more masks. It is time to party,” one post cited in the lawsuit from the account read. The post also featured an “ASU” graphic with the school’s maroon and gold colored lettering.
“Our first party will be called Hoax-19 because this idea that Covid is only rampant in America compared to other countries is a hoax!” another post cited in the lawsuit read.
What ASU did: Lawyers for the school reached out to Instagram in early August in an effort to take the account down, arguing that it was using the university’s logo and trademarks without permission, court records show.
However, Instagram told the school that “it is not clear that the content you’ve reported infringes your trademark rights,” according to an email exchange in the suit. An Instagram employee told ASU’s attorney that it did not appear that the content was likely to confuse people about the source, sponsorship or affiliation.
Russia connection: In addition to the misinformation, the school’s initial investigation indicated that the people behind the account could be in Russia, according to the lawsuit. The university felt that someone was using the account to "sow confusion and conflict and to interfere with the health of the Arizona State University community by trying to worsen the pandemic here.”
The school filed a lawsuit, alleging trademark infringement, on August 20.
When asked about the lawsuit, a Facebook company spokesperson said that they "have removed the account in question for violating our policies.” Facebook disagreed that the account infringed on any ASU trademark rights, and would not comment on the account’s origin, citing user privacy reasons.
Despite the account going down, ASU said that it would press on with the litigation.