Facebook temporarily hid posts with the hashtag #ResignModi for about three hours on Wednesday, Buzzfeed News reported. A Facebook spokesperson told MediaNama, “We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it.” The social media platform did not respond to MediaNama’s question on what led to such a mistake.
— Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) April 28, 2021
This block comes at a time when social media censorship by the Indian government is at an unprecedented high. Last Saturday, MediaNama reported on Twitter censoring 52 tweets criticizing the government’s handling of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The blocked tweets contain tweets by well-known personalities including an MP and an MLA. A few days after this incident, Wall Street Journal reported that over 100 posts across Twitter and Facebook were blocked on government orders. These incidents have caused a public outrage against the Indian government. While the government has the powers to issue such orders under section 69A of India’s Information Technology Act, it has recently been given even more say in this matter by the new Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021.
Facebook initially said that posts calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister were hidden because some content in those posts went against its Community Standards, but did not specify which content violated rules nor which rules were violated. Facebook reversed its decision after about three hours and allowed users to find posts with the hashtag, the report stated.
The posts were not only hidden in India, but in United States, Canada, and England, the report added. This could support Facebook’s claim that it was a mistake because the platform need not block content outside of India if issued an order by the government here.
Facebook’s alleged favouritism towards the ruling party
Facebook’s relationship with India’s ruling party has been under scrutiny since last year’s Wall Street Journal exposé. The report accused Ankhi Das, former Facebook India’s top public policy executive, of showing favouritism towards the ruling party.
Following BJP’s victory in the 2014 national election, Ankhi Das reportedly said “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history.” Many other such instances where Ms.Das showed bias were also pointed out in the report. Some Facebook employees found Ms.Das’s actions in conflict with Facebook’s neutrality pledge.
Another major revelation was that Facebook refused to take down hateful content posted by BJP politicians despite many within the company finding the content in violation of the platform’s rule. Ms.Das reportedly advised against the removal in order to avoid damaging the company’s business interests in India. One of the posts in question involved T Raja Singh, a BJP MLA from Telangana, calling for the deaths of Rohingya Muslims and called Indian Muslims “traitors”.
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