- Several posts with #ResignModi were hidden by Facebook in India.
- Facebook said these posts were found violating the community guidelines.
- It also said that the government did not order any takedown.
Facebook made some posts asking for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's resignation from office, hidden from public viewing for a brief time in India, at a time when the country is grappling with the Covid-19 crisis. Facebook said that it did that "by mistake" and not because the Indian government asked it so. This is the second incident where voices critical of the ruling government were snubbed, especially in the middle of the crisis that has made India an epicentre of the pandemic. A few days back, Twitter had to hide as many as 50 posts that were critical of the government's manner of handling the Covid-19 situation in India, in response to the government's order.
The Wall Street Journal first reported it and as BuzzFeed News later pointed out, Facebook Wednesday hid posts containing the hashtag or text "#ResignModi" entirely in India. The social media giant said it did that because "some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards." People in India could not view these posts, but, according to BuzzFeed News, those in the US, Canada, or the UK could see them with a simple search. These posts remained hidden for about three hours, but after the first report on this was out, Facebook allowed these posts to be seen in India, backtracking on its previous decision related to community guideline violations.
On that, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said, "We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it."
The Indian government has called out the original WSJ report, terming it "misleading on facts and mischievous in intent." The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has shared a statement on the Koo app -- India's rival to Twitter -- saying, "A story by Wall Street Journal attributing removal of a certain hashtag by Facebook to GOI's efforts to curb public dissent is misleading on facts and mischievous in intent. Govt has not issued any direction to remove this hashtag. Facebook has also clarified that it was removed by mistake."
The MeitY handle also referred to a previous WSJ report to highlight its stance. It said, "It is pertinent to mention that on 5th March 2021 also, Wall Street Journal had published a fake news with heading- "India Threatens Jail for Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter Employees". Government had sent an official rebuttal of this completely fake and manufactured story to Wall Street Journal. Media has a very important role to play in acting as a force multiplier to the efforts of our front-line workers and medical professionals. At a sensitive time like this, we would urge the media to partner with crores of ordinary Indians as we collectively fight the pandemic."
Since the posts were hidden in India, it is not immediately clear how they were found violating Facebook's community guidelines. And since Facebook is claiming the Indian government had nothing to do with this takedown of posts, there looms a bigger question for the social media giant. And that question straightaway targets the company's community guidelines. And the algorithm that Facebook is using to scan posts across the platform. Since posts with the particular #ResignModi were hidden, Facebook needs to clarify more in terms of what else it found was against the guidelines.
This is the second incident in recent times where a social media company has removed content that does not favour the Modi government or its way of handling the pandemic. Previously, Twitter hid several posts on its platform from viewing in India and these posts were critical of how the government is handling the Covid-19 outbreak. But Twitter did not take the decision arbitrarily. The Indian government asked Twitter to take down these posts. However, later, the Indian government said that it asked Twitter to remove only those posts that were found spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 situation in India, not the ones that criticised the government's ways of managing the pandemic.
Facebook has been under scrutiny ever since a Wall Street Journal investigation alleged a top Indian executive was found protecting a BJP member and other Hindu nationalists from the ban under the community guidelines of the company. Last year, in August, Facebook's India policy head Ankhi Das appeared before a Parliament panel to answer questions related to her going against the company's hate speech guidelines to protect certain people by asking the content moderation team not to censor their questionable posts. Amid mounting allegations, Das resigned from Facebook in October, a move the social media giant said had nothing to do with the controversy but because Das wanted to pursue her interest in public service.