A hashtag for the resignation of the Indian Prime Minister was briefly blocked on Facebook on Wednesday, hiding more than 12,000 posts critical of the Indian government as the Coronavirus pandemic spirals out of control in the country.
Facebook has now restored the posts and told The Verge it is “looking into what happened,” echoing a public statement from a member of its communications team.
Facebook users based in India noted on Twitter that the hashtag #ResignModi had been blocked from view on Facebook.
Users searching the hashtag were given a message that said such posts were “temporarily hidden here” because “some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards”.
The temporary suspension of the hashtag is likely to fuel concerns about the influence that Modi’s BJP party wields over Facebook operations and social media in general. Last weekend, Twitter hid tweets critical of various officials after receiving an emergency order from the government.
The blocking of the #ResignModi hashtag comes after Twitter faced criticism for deleting more than 50 tweets critical of the Indian administration’s handling of the pandemic after a legal request by the Indian government. Facebook and Instagram had already blocked a number of posts about Modi on the orders of the government, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Facebook India has previously faced criticism after a Wall Street Journal report in August revealed connections between a top Indian policy employee and Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party. That employee resigned after sharing a Facebook post that called India’s Muslims a “degenerate community” for whom “nothing except purity of religion and implementation of Shariah matter”.
India is currently seeing another wave in COVID-19 cases, which has lead to critical medical supplies being in short supply. Many of the Facebook posts with the ResignModi hashtag include references to the coronavirus.
Facebook has blocked hashtags in the past — during the 2020 US election it blocked the “StopTheSteal” tag, showing users a similar message to the one seen in India today.
The hashtag for “Qanon” is also blocked, as part of Facebook’s fight against the conspiracy-based social movement.
Unlike the ResignModi hashtag, the StopTheSteal and Qanon tags are still blocked, with the message citing content that goes against community standards.
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