The Instagram account “@asu_covid.parties” gained more than 900 followers in less than three months, but not for a good reason, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by the Arizona Board of Regents.
The suit, going after whoever is behind the mysterious social media account, accusing them of false advertising, trademark infringement, and unfair competition.
“…to promote a so-called “Hoax-19” Covid party, claiming that Covid-19 is “a big fat hoax,” and spreading dangerous misinformation about Covid19 just as students are returning to ASU’s campuses to begin classes on August 20, 2020,” according to the lawsuit.
Its posts, considered dangerous by ASU, citing repeated messages to ignore safety precautions, and claiming to be working on planning massive parties.
“No more social distancing. No more masks. It’s time to party!” read one post.
“We will party. We do not care what you snowflakes say. COVID-19 is a fat hoax,” read another.
The account, already seen by some students living on campus.
“It’s kind of an embarrassment honestly,” said freshman Bella Rusy. “I don’t know why anyone would want to do that,” added Allan Rodriguez. “Especially with everything going on right now, parties should be the last thing you should do.” ASU accuses the account of posting false and offensive statements about ASU, and its leaders.
“In several posts the owner of this account portrays ASU and its leadership as Nazis, referring to ASU’s President Crow as Führer Crow and comparing ASU’s mask requirement to forcing Jews to wear a yellow Star of David.”
The suit goes on to say ASU leaders have been pleading with Facebook, the company who runs Instagram, to remove the account, but have been unsuccessful.
“Despite actual knowledge of the infringement, and the ability to control and monitor the “asu_covid.parties” account on its platform – and contrary to its own terms, policies and community guidelines – Facebook continues to provide its Instagram service to “asu_covid.parties,” which in turn provides the means of infringement.”
“Further worsening this situation, the initial investigation indicates that the parties behind this account may be located in Russia and are 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.”
Living on campus, students like Justin Gutfeld believes most students hope to keep from spreading the virus among the ASU community, after seeing universities across the country reverse in-person learning after only days of students returning to campus.
“The last thing we want to do is spend all this effort like moving in to just move out again,” he said. “That’s just a very easy way to like ruin it for a whole lot of people who like worked hard to come here.”
Friday night, the account was seemingly removed from Instagram. Facebook telling the Arizona Republic the account violated their policies but adds they disagree the account violated any trademark rights ASU might have.
In a statement, ASU President Michael Crow said, “We simply cannot and will not allow the institution and its trademarks to be used for the manipulative and inappropriate purposes of those who cowardly hide behind social media collaborators like Instagram.”