Following Twitter's censorship of 52 tweets and Facebook's temporary censorship of #ResignModi, now Instagram is reportedly censoring COVID-19-related dissent.
On May 6th, Instagram stories and posts started disappearing, according to user posts compiled by Vidushi Marda, global AI research and advocacy lead at ARTICLE 19. ARTICLE 19 is an international freedom of expression organisation.
A majority of censored posts pertained to the following areas:
COVID-19 relief and volunteer work in India
Critique against public statements made by Tejaswi Surya, a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from Bengaluru
According to a community forum run by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), Instagram is also actively censoring anti-establishment stories, posts and private chats criticizing the government over mishandling of the pandemic and the Central Vista project. IFF is a Delhi-based advocacy
The forum also notes how many users have not been provided with warnings, notices or intimations saying their posts and stories were taken down.
Marda also noted that on May 7, there were instances when private chats pertaining to COVID-19 relief and politics disappeared.
As per Instagram’s official communications department, this is a “widespread global technical issue not related to any topic”. But the disproportionate impact on pages and content relating to COVID-19 relief efforts, political critique and activism in general raises important questions of accountability from Instagram.
On May 7, Instagram noted that the company had “fixed” this issue, but as of 6:45 p.m. IST on May 7, stories and pages were still missing.
The Twitter handle of Instagram’s official communications department lists [email protected] in case of press queries. NewsClick sent requests for clarification about why exactly Instagram posts and stories were censored and why private chats disappeared to this email ID. This copy will be updated if and when a response is received.
Marda told NewsClick it is "crucial for Instagram to publicly and meaningfully explain these takedowns, which have profound social and political consequences, particularly impacting volunteer-driven relief efforts at a time of a grave public health crisis in India."
She added that the fact that Instagram’s filters are also removing content from activists posting about Palestinian evictions in East Jerusalem points to "larger systemic and systematic problems that merits further engagement on this issue”.
Censorship issues with Facebook & Twitter persist
On April 22 and 23, following instructions from the Modi government, Twitter blocked 52 tweets, a major chunk of which criticised the government’s handling of the COVID pandemic. These tweets are censored even today despite the fact that there appears to be no legitimate reason (like incitement to violence) to censor them.
On April 28, Facebook temporarily hid posts with the hashtag #ResignModi for ‘violating its community standards.’ A spokesperson later said that the posts were hidden “by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to…”
Gupta of IFF pointed out how the 'accidental' censorship of #ResignModi is not documented on Facebook's Newsroom. Suffice to say, Facebook has still not publicly clarified on whose instructions and why exactly the hashtag was censored.
Given that India is Facebook's biggest market, a running joke is that when Facebook was asked to bend, it crawled.
Also read: Facebook Blocks #ResignModi Posts for Hours, Restores After Backlash, Terms it as ‘Mistake’
(The author is a freelance journalist.)