Facebook Inc. temporarily blocked posts containing hashtags calling on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resign, then reinstated them on Wednesday, saying the action had been taken in error.
The #ResignModi hashtag was blocked on Facebook for several hours amid national controversy over India’s response to an escalating Covid-19 crisis and the government’s efforts to curb public dissent.
Facebook declined to say what led to the action, though it has previously apologized for other hashtag removals, which can be performed either by human review teams or the company’s automated enforcement tools.
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"This hashtag has been restored and we are looking into what happened," Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said.
In recent months, Mr. Modi’s government has demanded that Facebook, Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google remove content supporting farmer-led protests of an agricultural law or criticizing the government’s pandemic response.
India’s government earlier this week ordered U.S. social-media companies to block posts criticizing its handling of the exploding Covid-19 surge, sparking public anger and allegations of censorship in the world’s most populous democracy. Indian government officials said some people were using social media to create panic in society.
The companies in recent months have complied with some demands while resisting others, prompting Indian authorities to threaten to arrest individual employees of Twitter, Facebook and Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp, The Wall Street Journal reported last month.
The Journal previously reported that Facebook had made exceptions to its policies against hate speech to avoid conflict with Mr. Modi’s political party, the BJP, and that its former Indian public-policy director, Ankhi Das, had cheered the BJP’s electoral successes and derided its political opponents.
BuzzFeed News, which earlier reported this week’s hashtag blockade in India, said Facebook’s system told users that posts that included #ResignModi were "temporarily hidden" because "some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards."
Facebook apologized last summer after imposing a similar blockade of #savethechildren, a hashtag that had been co-opted by adherents of QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory that posited then-President Donald Trump was waging a secret war against a powerful cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
Earlier in 2020, Facebook-owned Instagram blocked the #Sikh hashtag for an extended period due to what the company called an error. "We became aware that these hashtags were blocked today following feedback we received from the community, and quickly moved to unblock them," Instagram’s communications team wrote on Twitter at the time. "Our processes fell down here, and we’re sorry."