Facebook has temporarily hidden posts demanding the resignation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, marking the platform’s latest foray into the series of controversial decisions influencing freedom of expression in a country experiencing a complete COVID-19 crisis.
On Wednesday, the world’s largest social network said that messages with the hashtag or text #ResignModi “are temporarily hidden here” because “content on these posts goes against our Community Standards”. Because the posts were hidden, it is not clear that content violated the rules of a company in which executives often expressed a commitment to open expression.
After hiding the messages with the hashtag for about three hours, Facebook overturned its decision and allowed users to find and access posts with criticism of Modi, immediately after this story was published.
“We have temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government has asked us to, and since then we have restored it,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told BuzzFeed News.
Last week, the Indian government ordered on Twitter to block access to more than 50 tweets criticizing Modi’s management of the pandemic. U Wall Street Journal he also reported that Facebook and Instagram had blocked posts on Modi by government order.
The hashtag was leaked in India, according to people who shared screenshots on Twitter, and in the United States, Canada and England based on research conducted by BuzzFeed News.
February, India enacted new regulations on social media and online video, which give the government the ability to ask platforms like Facebook and Twitter to abandon content that the government finds unacceptable.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Electronics and Information of India did not even respond to a request for comment.
This seems to be the first time Facebook has blocked or hidden requests for the resignation of a democratically elected world leader and goes against the preference stated by CEO Mark Zuckerberg to leave content whenever possible. The ban seems antithetical to the principles of a platform that was once celebrated for its role in the perpetuation of the Arab Spring, which led to a wave of democratic revolts that killed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and the autocratic leaders of many other countries in the region.
Despite signs that normal life is about to return earlier this year, India is currently struggling with the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, one that has come with growing criticism from its leader.
“The Indo-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken on the difficult task of organizing a pandemic response in a poor country like India and has made it impossible,” wrote the Indian magazine Caravan on Tuesday.
Earlier this year, homes in India collapsed, and most of the country resumed normal life. Ma starting in March, almost springs. More than 360,000 people were infected and 3,293 died yesterday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The crisis pushed the country’s health system to a close, however people dying in their cars trying to gain access to hospitals in Delhi. Pre-election events and religious gatherings they shared the virus, which the Modi government is committed to responding to.
On Sunday, President Joe Biden announced the United States will rush to supply to the country, and also to lift restrictions on the export of raw materials needed to make vaccines.
Facebook links with Modi government and its Bharatiya Janata Party have been under scrutiny since Wall Street Journal revealed in August that the first employee of society policy in India protected a prominent member of the BJP and at least three other Hindu nationalists from being punished for violating the rules of Facebook’s hate speech. The employee, Ankhi Das, Facebook’s political director for India and South and Central Asia, later sorry and renounced after sharing a Facebook post calling Indian Muslims a “degenerate community” for which “nothing but the purity of religion and the implementation of Shariah matter.”
“In the context of a highly politicized environment and a permanent emergency, it’s very worrying that Facebook is no longer transparent in this regard and doesn’t comment,” said evelyn douek, a professor at Harvard Law School. “This seems to be a heartfelt political speech at a very critical time.”