Facebook hides anti-Modi hashtag 'by mistake': Details here
Facebook claims to have had a case of accidental censorship on its hands. The social media platform was accused of censorship when Twitter users began sharing screenshots that showed how Facebook hid posts calling for the resignation of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Facebook has since restored those posts and told The Verge that it had blocked the hashtag "by mistake".
Posts made under the #ResignModi hashtag were temporarily hidden, and users trying to access them were shown a message stating that they were in violation of Facebook's Community Standards. BuzzFeed News reported that the posts were hidden for about three hours before Facebook restored them following user backlash and scrutiny on Twitter.
Facebook has made an official statement clarifying that the posts weren't censored at the behest of the Indian government, but rather on account of some content used in the hashtag that was allegedly in violation of its policies. Facebook didn't specify the nature of the objectionable content. However, it said the hashtag was blocked erroneously, which is in conflict with its policy violation claims.
Meanwhile, the fallout from public outcry over Facebook's temporary censorship was enough to get the attention of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). The government body denounced Wall Street Journal's coverage and called it "misleading on facts and mischievous on intent". It reiterated Facebook's claim that the government had no say in its decision to hide posts under the anti-Modi hashtag.
A Wall Street Journal story attributing removal of certain hashtag by FB to GoI‘s efforts to curb public dissent is misleading on facts mischievous in intent. Govt hasn't issued any direction to remove the hashtag. FB clarified it was removed by mistake: ElectronicsIT Ministry pic.twitter.com/YfOYatolHS— ANI (@ANI) April 29, 2021
India's Prime Minister has been facing public ire on account of the recent catastrophic surge in the country's coronavirus cases and the shortage of critical medicines and oxygen supplies. A large number of posts under the hashtag were related to the Modi administration's coronavirus management. Facebook may have jumped the gun on censoring the hashtag for this reason, and COVID-19 discourse is heavily moderated.
There is some precedent for public suspicion of Facebook's temporary censorship of the anti-Modi hashtag because the government had ordered Twitter to remove posts critical of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media entities such as Facebook and Twitter have little recourse considering the Indian government's airtight social media code, which mandates them to remove user content at its discretion.