A hashtag calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook was blocked for several hours on Wednesday, 28 April, censoring over 12,000 posts critical of the ruling BJP government, as the second wave of COVID-19 turned into a devastating public health disaster in the country.
Several noticed that the hashtag #ResignModi had been blocked on Facebook and any Indian netizen looking for the hashtag was flashed with a notice saying that such posts had been “temporarily hidden here” as some content in those posts went against the website’s “Community Standards.”
While Facebook later restored the hashtag and said that it was removed “by mistake,” the Centre issued a statement saying that no such order was given by it to the social media giant.
‘Blocked By Mistake’: Facebook’s Bizarre Explanation
Amid the controversy, Facebook’s Olivia Solon took to Twitter to share a screenshot of the message, to which Facebook’s Andy Stone replied: “This hashtag has been restored and we are looking into what happened.”
The hashtag was then made accessible on Facebook from the US around 12:50 pm PST.
In an e-mail clarifying the incident, the Facebook spokesperson said, “We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to and have since restored it.”
‘Didn’t Issue Any Such Directions’: Centre
Hours after the controversy, the Ministry of Electronics and IT issued a statement saying that no such direction to block any hashtag was given to Facebook by the Centre.
“A Wall Street Journal story attributing removal of certain hashtag by FB to GoI‘s efforts to curb public dissent is misleading on facts and mischievous in intent. The government hasn’t issued any direction to remove the hashtag. FB clarified it was removed by mistake,” it said, as quoted by ANI.
‘Spineless, Double Standards’: BJP, Facebook Slammed on Social Media
Several people took to Twitter to call out the alleged double standards of Facebook and said that while people get blocked for spreading lies in other countries, Indians are blocked for speaking the truth.
Twitter Blocks Criticism of Govt’s Handling of COVID
This development came after Twitter recently censored over 50 tweets that criticised the Modi administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the country.
A review of the tweets, now withheld from viewing within India, demonstrated that most of them sought to highlight the issues India was facing amid the deluge of COVID-19 cases and criticised the government’s handling of the crisis.
Twitter’s filings with the Lumen database, a Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Centre initiative, indicated that the request to block these tweets had come from the Centre.
Subsequently, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera served a legal notice, calling the censorship a violation of the fundamental right to free speech and called on Twitter to not be asked to take down such posts under the government’s instructions.
The Facebook hashtag #ResignModi currently shows posts inundated with the horrors of the pandemic, where hospitals and crematoriums are overflowing with the sick and the dead. As the infections see an unprecedented surge in the country, with over 3 lakh cases being recorded every day since the past week, the Indian healthcare system is overburdened and tattered.