Facebook on Wednesday night temporarily blocked the hashtag “#resignmodi”, which was critical of India’s handling of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Users searching for the hashtag were shown a message that said such posts were “temporarily hidden here” because “some content in those posts goes against our community standards”.
The hashtag was later restored after users pointed it out on Twitter. “This hashtag has been restored and we are looking at into what happened,” Facebook Communications Policy Director Andy Stone tweeted.
“We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it,” a Facebook spokesperson said, reported The Guardian.
Only the posts with the hashtag seemed to be hidden as users were still able to post content, according to The Wire. The hashtag was restored at 1.20 am on Thursday (Indian Standard Time).
The hashtag was hidden within India, the United States, Canada and England, according to the searches run by BuzzFeed News.
India is currently in the middle of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Cases are increasing at an alarming rate. On Wednesday, India registered a record 3,60,960 new coronavirus cases in a day, taking the total number of infections since the pandemic broke out in January 2020 to 1,79,97,267. This is the highest ever single-day rise in cases reported by any country so far, and the seventh consecutive day when the country has recorded more than 3 lakh cases.
Social media users were using the hashtag to post content critical of the government, complaining about the mismanagement of the Narendra Modi government asking the prime minister to resign.
Facebook had earlier faced criticism after an article by The Wall Street Journal’s on August 14 reported that the social media giant had ignored incendiary posts by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The report showed that the public policy director of Facebook India, Ankhi Das, had opposed the idea of removing incendiary posts by BPJ leaders, warning that this could hurt the company’s “commercial interests” in India. Das had also not revealed that Facebook had deleted fake news pages connected to the saffron party, according to the report.
Last week, Twitter took down 52 tweets, most of which were critical of India’s handling of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, in compliance with the Centre’s request. The tweets, which were no longer accessible in India, included those posted by Congress MP Revanth Reddy, West Bengal minister Moloy Ghatak, actor Vineet Kumar Singh and filmmakers Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das.
Notably in February, at the height of the farmers’ protest against three new agriculture laws, Twitter had withheld several accounts, including those of Caravan magazine and Kisan Ekta Morcha, an umbrella body of the protesters. The accounts were however, restored hours later. Twitter had said its action was in response to a legal demand.
Days later, the Centre had directed Twitter to block nearly 1,200 accounts with suspected links to Khalistan sympathisers or Pakistan. The government had said these accounts were causing a threat to public order amid the farmers’ protest.