Facebook on Wednesday temporarily hid posts in India that contained a hashtag calling for the resignation of that country’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
Users trying to post status updates, videos, or photos with the hashtag #ResignModi received a warning prompt that said their posts had been “temporarily hidden” because “some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards.” Many people use the hashtag to criticize how Modi has handled the pandemic in India, where the coronavirus is currently surging.
Hours after public complaints about the ban, which also included Facebook-owned Instagram, Facebook said it had reversed the ban. “We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in an emailed statement.
The news comes just four days after the Indian government asked that Facebook and Twitter take down posts critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The Indian government said that it made the demands because it worried the posts could incite panic and hamper its efforts to fight the pandemic.
India is breaking new records daily for the huge numbers of people contracting and dying from the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Modi’s government is under stiff criticism for the lack of medical resources like ventilators and oxygen to treat the sick. The U.S., the U.K., and Pakistan have since offered to help India by donating supplies.
Facebook’s ban comes as the company grapples with how to handle political posts after CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially called for free speech on the service. Facebook has spent the past couple of years introducing new labels and rules for political posts, especially during the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
But Facebook has faced backlash from both sides of the political aisle in the U.S. for how it enforces its rules. Democrats say that the company is too lax in its enforcement, allowing users including former President Donald Trump to spew hate and incite violence on the service. Meanwhile, Republicans say that Facebook unfairly censors conservative posts. Facebook’s decision to ban Trump following the riot at the U.S. Capitol in January is being reviewed by the company’s Oversight Board, essentially a Supreme Court for appeals. A decision could come within days.
And in India, the company has created similar political controversy after it chose not to enforce its hate speech rules against politician T. Raja Singh, a member of Modi’s ruling party. Facebook’s top public policy executive in India, whose job involved lobbying India’s government on Facebook’s behalf, was responsible for making the decision, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Update: This article has been amended to include the latest statement from Facebook.
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