Facebook temporarily hid posts calling for the resignation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, marking the latest launch of the platform in a series of controversial decisions affecting freedom of speech in a country facing a completely disrupted COVID-19 crisis.
On Wednesday, the world’s largest social network said posts with the hashtag or text #ResignModi “are temporarily hidden here” because “some of the content in those posts goes against our community standards.” Because the posts were hidden, it is not clear which content violated the rules of a company whose executives have often pledged to disclose.
After hiding the post with hashtags for about three hours, Facebook reversed its decision and allowed users to find and access posts with Modi criticism, right after the story was published.
Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook, told BuzzFeed News: “We mistakenly temporarily blocked this hashtag because the Indian government requested it and recovered it.”
Last week, the Indian government ordered Twitter to block access to more than 50 tweets that criticized Modi’s handling of the epidemic. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Facebook and Instagram blocked posts about Modi at the behest of the government.
The hashtag was hidden in India, according to people who shared screenshots on Twitter and in the United States, Canada and England, based on a search conducted by Bushfeed News.
In February, India enacted new rules on social media and online video, giving the government the power it needs for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to pick up offensive content.
A spokesman for India’s Electronics and Information Technology has not yet responded to a request for comment.
This is the first time that Facebook has blocked or concealed calls for the resignation of a democratically elected world leader and goes against CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s choice to leave content whenever possible. The ban appears to contradict the principles of a platform that was once celebrated for its role in perpetuating the Arab Spring, sparking a wave of democratic uprisings to overthrow Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and many other countries in the region.
Despite signs that normal life will return earlier this year, India is currently in the grip of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, which has come under increasing criticism from its leader.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government has taken the difficult task of organizing an epidemic response in a poor country like India and made it impossible,” Caravan, an India-based magazine, wrote on Tuesday.
Earlier this year, cases in India declined and most parts of the country resumed normal life. But in early March, the cases escalated. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, more than 360,000 people were infected yesterday and 29,23 died. The crisis has pushed the country’s healthcare system to the brink, with people dying in their cars trying to get to hospitals in Delhi. Election rallies and religious rallies have spread the virus, as the Modi government struggles to respond.
On Sunday, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would supply the country, as well as lift restrictions on the export of raw materials needed to make vaccines.
Facebook’s relationship with the Modi government and its Bharatiya Janata Party has been under scrutiny since a prominent BJP member of the company’s top policy staff in India and at least three Hindu nationalists were spared punishment for violating Facebook’s hate speech. Ankhi Das, Facebook’s policy director for India and South and Central Asia, later apologized and resigned after sharing a Facebook post that described Muslims in India as a “degraded community” for those who had “nothing but purity of religion and implementation of Sharia.” No. “
“Given the highly political environment and the ongoing state of emergency, it is a matter of great concern that Facebook is not very transparent and is not commenting on this,” said Evelyn Dowk, a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “This seems to be the key political discourse at a crucial time.”