Facebook Blocks Hashtag Calling for Indian Prime Minister Modi to Resign over Pandemic

In this Nov. 13, 2019, file photo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the BRICS Business Council prior to the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, Brazil. From industrialists and foreign companies to celebrities and ordinary citizens, people from all walks of life pitched in for a newly …
AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

Facebook revealed Thursday that it blocked all posts containing the hashtag #ResignModi in India for several hours Wednesday.

Facebook at first claimed the hashtag, popular among Indians who believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi should resign for handling the coronavirus poorly, was suppressed because it violated community standards. Later on Thursday, Facebook said the hashtag was blocked by “mistake” and would be restored.

This week, the Indian government asked Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to ban posts that spread “fake or misleading information” about the coronavirus surge. Twitter confirmed it complied with the order and deleted some of the tweets indicated by the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. Facebook did not immediately comment on the order.

Critics accused the Modi administration of using the pandemic crisis as a pretext for stifling political opposition. These suspicions were reinforced when Facebook wiped out every post with the #ResignModi hashtag “ahead of the final phase of lawmaker elections in a key state,” as the Times of India (TOI) noted Thursday.

Facebook’s initial statement on the matter said the company did not receive any orders from the Indian government to shut down #ResignModi, but had taken action because some of the posts using the hashtag violated its community standards.

Facebook later amended this statement to say it “temporarily” blocked #ResignModi by “mistake,” and is “looking into what happened.” Roughly 12,000 posts under the hashtag became visible to India’s 400 million Facebook users once more.

The UK Guardian recalled Wednesday that Facebook India attracted criticism in August for “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,’” the Guardian reported.

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