As India struggles with an escalating Covid crisis, Facebook Inc. blocked posts which were tagged with #ResignModi before restoring them hours later, adding fuel to a controversy that’s erupted over government requests to remove social media content.
According to Facebook, the hashtag was by mistake blocked and not at the behest of the government, without explaining any further. For a variety of reasons, Facebook blocks hashtags periodically, while some are blocked manually but many also based on automated internal guidelines. According to the spokesperson, the error stemmed from content associated with the label and not the hashtag itself.
Ahead of the last stage of the elections, the hours-long block, follows public outrage and official efforts to curb the posts critical of the ways PM Narendra Modi and his government has handled the pandemic, calling him to resign. The country this year established new rules to take down unlawful content quicker, triggering a debate over freedom of speech in the world’s largest democracy from Facebook and Twitter Inc.
“We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it,” told a Facebook company spokesperson.
In recent weeks, the second wave of coronavirus agitated India, with short supply of hospital beds, medicines and oxygen. More than 3,00,00 new cases have been daily recorded in India, while crematoriums are overrun. Many people have gone to social media to seek help for everything from hospital beds to medicines, CT scans, doorstep Covid tests, and even food for the elderly in quarantine.
Stirring public anger over the handling of the crisis, Government of India in response orders U.S. social-media companies to block posts, saying Covid-related misinformation risked spurring a panic and disrupting efforts to bring the pandemic under control.
Over the past month, posts related to Covid has either been removed or restricted access to by Twitter Inc. The social media giant, earlier this year had permanently suspend more than 500 accounts and block access to hundreds of others in India, acceding to a government order to restrain the spread of misinformation and inflammatory content related to farmers’ protests. According to the company, it reviews all valid legal requests it receives under the company’s guidelines and local rules.