When Facebook users tried to view a hashtag calling for the resignation of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, they instead saw a message saying that Facebook was temporarily hiding the posts in order to keep the community safe. Buzzfeed News reports that the posts were hidden for about three hours.
Facebook has now restored the posts and told The Verge it is “looking into what happened,” echoing a public statement from a member of its communications team.
The temporary suspension of the hashtag is likely to fuel concerns about the influence that Modi’s BJP party wields over Facebook operations and social media in general. Last weekend, Twitter hid tweets critical of various officials after receiving an emergency order from the government.
India is currently currently seeing another wave in COVID-19 cases, which has lead to critical medical supplies being in short supply. Many of the Facebook posts with the ResignModi hashtag include references to the coronavirus.
Facebook has blocked hashtags in the past — during the 2020 US election it blocked the “StopTheSteal” tag, showing users a similar message to the one seen in India today. The hashtag for “Qanon” is also blocked, as part of Facebook’s fight against the conspiracy-based social movement. Unlike the ResignModi hashtag, the StopTheSteal and Qanon tags are still blocked, with the message citing content that goes against community standards.
Facebook India has been a sore point for the company in recent months, with its controversial policy chief resigning last October. Critics pressured her to leave, claiming that, under her guidance, Facebook India had failed to moderate hate speech that led to anti-Muslim pogroms in Delhi. More broadly, there were concerns that her public alignment with the ruling BJP party had led to unfair application of Facebook policy.