In a strange series of events that unfolded on Wednesday, social media giant Facebook managed to get itself in sort of a tussle with itself over the hashtag #ResignModi. Yesterday night, the platform briefly blocked the hashtag, preventing users from searching up more than 12,000 posts and content associated with it. This move did not seem to sit well with the millions of Facebook users, and a massive outrage erupted all over social media. This eventually forced Facebook to unblock the hashtag a few hours later, restoring access to all the associated content. The access was restored around 12:50 PM USA-time.
Spokesperson Andy Stone addressed the controversy via a tweet, saying that the platform was looking into “what happened.” His tweet read, “This hashtag has been restored and we are looking into what happened.”
The incident occurred late last night, when users who tried to look up posts pertaining to the hashtag were met with the message, “Keeping our Community Safe,” which is Facebook lingo for having blocked a certain hashtag or a set of posts. The message read, “Posts with #ResignModi are temporarily hidden here. Some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards.”
This however, did not deter users from continuing to make posts containing the hashtag in question, while also expressing their disapproval of the content being blocked. Facebook has not as yet provided any clarification on which posts or which type of content was in violation with its Community Standards, but the general public believes that it is yet another instance where the social media platform is being biased towards the Narendra Modi-led central government, who has recently been at the receiving end of major flak amid reports of its failure to deftly handle the second wave of the COVID pandemic, and the acute shortage of medical oxygen in the country.
This theory is supported by the fact that the BJP government itself directed Twitter to take down multiple tweets (around 50 in total) made by opposition leaders, either criticizing the Prime Minister, or talking about the mismanagement during the recent Kumbh Mela.
The Government had cited attempts to create panic about the COVID-19 by “using unrelated, communally sensitive posts and misinformation,” as the reason for the order. This had then led to Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera serving a legal notice against the move, claiming that it violated the users’ fundamental right to free speech. As such, it comes as no surprise that Facebook too, is in the midst of controversy for allegedly trying to block or divert calls for PM Modi to resign.
However, the platform has come up with a statement, claiming that the hashtag was not blocked on government orders. The statement in question, reads, “We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it.”
Only last year, the company had made headlines for allegedly violating its own policy against hate speech, when The Wall Street Journal had reported that it was maneuvering around and violating its hate speech policy “in favor of some politicians, including those associated with the ruling BJP.” The report had even gone as far as to provide an assumption regarding the reason behind this alleged bias, by saying, “punishing violations from the ruling party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.