Facebook Blocks ‘Resign Modi’ Hashtag, Then Restores Saying it Happened ‘By Mistake’

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This comes a week after Twitter, on request from the Indian government, withheld access to at least 52 tweets that castigated the Modi government for Covid-19 crises in the country

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Facebook on Wednesday temporarily blocked a hashtag that called for resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then hours later restored it, saying that the action was taken by mistake.

The hashtag #ResignModi was blocked after a number of posts were put out by users in anger against the Modi government’s shambolic response to the Coronavirus crises that is consuming thousands each day. On Wednesday, India passed the 200,000 Covid-19 death mark, one of the worst anywhere in the world.

During the restriction, when users clicked on a hashtag, it showed posts for #ResignModi “are temporarily hidden here” because “some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards.”

In a statement issued to the media, the company did not explain the reason behind the action but confirmed that the move did not come on Indian government’s request.

“We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it,” Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said adding that the company was looking into what happened.

Facebook last year ran into massive controversy in India after WallStreet Journal published an expose that revealed how the tech giant’s India executive Ankhi Das blocked action against a post by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader that called for violence against Rohingya refugees living in India.

The Modi government is facing public heat over mismanagement of health crises which has got it launching a crackdown on free speech asking social media companies to restrict access to posts that are critical of the government’s handling of the situation.

Angry users are posting comments, memes, videos, newspaper clipping on social media along with a hashtag that calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Modi as they directly blame his government for the death and devastation due to the pandemic in the country.

Last week Twitter, on request from Indian government, withheld access to at least 52 tweets that castigated the Modi government for covid-19 crises in the country. The move triggered a backlash with one opposition leader saying he would take legal recourse against the government for ordering censorship of his tweet that has highlighted the government’s double standards in dealing with the ongoing Hindu festival, Kumbh Mela, and last year’s Tablighi Jamaat event.

In January this year, the company temporarily blocked access to more than 250 accounts that posted tweets critical of the government’s handling of farm protests. The ban was withdrawn after the company argued that the tweets did not violate Indian law but the defiant move triggered a bitter back and forth. Later, the government came up with a strict policy for social media companies and digital news platforms which will further empower the authorities to order removal of critical content.

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