A hashtag calling for the resignation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefly blocked on Facebook on April 28. The action hid over 12,000 posts that were critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic in India as the country continues to struggle with the COVID-19 crisis.
Indian users said searching the hashtag #ResignModi resulted in a message saying that such posts were “temporarily hidden here” because “some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards”.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said the company had restored posts using the hashtag. “This hashtag has been restored, and we are looking into what happened,” Stone said.
He later said the company had blocked the hashtag “by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to.”
Facebook in its initial messages to users said that the hashtag had been blocked because “some content in those posts violates our community standards.” The temporary removal of these posts caused an uproar against the social media platform for possibly complying with orders from the Indian government.
More recently, Indian police in Uttar Pradesh are prosecuting a man for using Twitter in an attempt to find oxygen for his grandfather, who later died. Shashank Yadav was criminally charged for spreading a rumor over oxygen shortages “with intent to cause… Fear or alarm.” The police claimed that he spread “misleading information” and prompted others to make allegations against the government.
Yadav did not specify whether or not his grandfather had coronavirus, but officials said that he did not suffer from the virus. However, the circumstances around his death remain unclear.
Earlier, Yogi Adityanath, an ally of Prime Minister Modi, demanded that anyone spreading rumors and propaganda should have their property seized. He added that there was no oxygen shortage in any of the state’s hospitals. These claims arise despite the overwhelming magnitude of people posting photos, videos, articles and other data about the deaths and mayhem caused by the COVID-19 crisis in the country.
Twitter Removes Tweets critical of Indian government
A few days ago, as the COVID-19 crisis escalated in India, the government asked Twitter to take down dozens of tweets criticizing the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. At least 52 tweets were censored as a result.
One of the blocked posts, by an opposition party leader, said that people in India would “never forgive” Modi “for underplaying the corona situation in the country and letting so many people die due to mismanagement.”
Another tweet from a Reuters photographer contained pictures of mourning people, full hospitals and a busy cremation site. Other censored posts criticized shortages of coronavirus tests, showed patients being treated in makeshift tents or called for Modi’s resignation.
Although Twitter said the posts were blocked in India in line with local rules and regulations, they remain visible in other parts of the world.
Silencing the Farmers’ Protests
In February 2021, Twitter declined to comply with orders from the Indian government to remove “provocative” accounts and posts from its platform posting in favour of the farmers’ protest and against Modi’s government. Twitter cited “insufficient justification” as the reason for not removing nearly 250 accounts and posts in the pre-text of the farmers’ protest.
India’s technology ministry warned the company of legal consequences that could include fines or jail, asserting that the government did not require a justification to demand a ban on Twitter accounts.
In October 2020, Facebook India’s policy head Ankhi Das resigned afterThe Wall Street Journal accused Facebook of going easy on ruling party supporters who allegedly wrote anti-Muslim posts, violating hate speech rules. The paper also alleged that Das made the controversial decisions and was politically partisan.
Facebook denied the allegations and said it did not favour any party.