New Delhi: Facebook on Wednesday night temporarily prevented its users around the world from searching for content through the hashtag ‘ResignModi’.
Access to the hashtag, and the associated content, was restored a couple of hours later after user outrage erupted across various social media platforms.
In a brief and immediate response to the controversy, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said that Facebook was looking into “what happened”.
“This hashtag has been restored and we are looking into what happened,” Stone tweeted out.
A statement put out later on Thursday morning by a company spokesperson said the decision to block the hashtag was a “mistake” and that it was not done at the behest of the Modi government.
On Wednesday evening, Facebook users discovered that when they searched for #ResignModi on the digital platform, instead of finding relevant posts, they were instead met with a message titled ‘Keeping our Community Safe’.
The message noted that posts with the hashtag or text “ResignModi’ are “temporarily hidden here” because “some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards”.
Users, however, it appears were not prevented from posting content using #ResignModi. It is unclear what type of content that used those hashtags was in violation of Facebook’s community standards.
In response to a questionnaire sent by The Wire, a company spokesperson said that the hashtag had been blocked as a “mistake” and that the Modi government had not asked the company to do so.
“We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
India is currently deep in the midst of a brutal ‘second wave’ of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s healthcare system has been brought to its knees by hundreds of thousands of daily fresh infections.
Criticism of the Modi government’s handling of the pandemic has already proven to be a sore point, with the Centre asking Twitter to take down several tweets by opposition leaders that sharply criticised the prime minister or the handling of the recent Kumbh Mela gatherings.
While Facebook and sister company Instagram have blocked access to full hashtags in the past – most notably, when they mistakenly banned ‘#Sikh’ in the run-up to the anniversary of Operation Bluestar – critics on Thursday targeted the social media giant for effectively blocking calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Update (12:39 pm, April 29, 2021): This story was updated after publication to include a new statement by a Facebook spokesperson that said the decision to block the hashtag a “mistake” and that it was not done on the orders of the Modi government.