Facebook appears to be blocking the hashtag #Sikh for a number of users. This was highlighted by a huge number of users on Twitter and independently verified by Gadgets 360 as well. Curiously, the blocking of the hashtag appears to be happening selectively, as some members accounts could not search for the term, but results were showing up for others. Gadgets 360 has reached out to Facebook for more details about why #Sikh was hidden, and why this appears to have been done only for some users but not all. The hashtag was also blocked on Instagram, but has now been restored.
At a time when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided not to act against posts by US President Donald Trump which many felt were an incitement to violence, it appears to be blocking a very broad term owing to some unspecified community standards. Facebook staffers have left the company owing to the controversial posts, whereas Twitter took a firmer stand, putting a public interest notice on President Trump's tweets, marking that they were “glorifying violence”.
This has been brought up by many in the Sikh community, who are aghast that even as Facebook defends President Trump's posts, it is censoring a hashtag that refers to an entire community. However, a response by a senior executive in the company suggests that the entire issue might have been a bug.
The issue was first seen by Gadgets 360 thanks to a tweet by Ravinder Singh, Founder and CEO of Khalsa Aid, but a quick search on Twitter shows that the issue is quite widespread. There are hundreds of tweets pointing out the blocking of #Sikh on Facebook at the time of writing. Poet and author Rupi Kaur directly called out “the hypocrisy of Facebook's approach to free speech,” in a tweet.
Kaur wrote, “Zuckerberg says FB's principles prohibit him from blocking Trump as he incites violence and hate. Meanwhile, as Sikhs raise their voice to mark the injustices of 1984: Sikh hashtags are blocked.”
Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram and former head of News Feed, replied to Kaur's tweet saying, “Not sure what's going on here, but we're looking into it and will circle back. Thanks for calling it out.” Soon after, the hashtag was restored on Instagram.
Mosseri then replied again, and wrote, “Not sure how the #Sikh hashtag ended up blocked. It's now unblocked on Instagram, we are working to unblock it on Facebook, and we're investigating why this happened.”
In a statement released on Twitter, Instagram team blamed human error for the issue and revealed the hashtag was blocked for months.
Thanks for your patience today. We investigated this issue and found that these hashtags were mistakenly blocked on March 7th following a report that was inaccurately reviewed by our teams.— Instagram Comms (@InstagramComms) June 3, 2020
Restaurateur Harjinder Singh Kukreja highlighted this with a tweet pointing out that the block was discriminatory. The Sikh Press Association on Twitter raised the issue of the block as well, as well as the #Neverforget1984 hashtag, and Simran Jeet Singh, a well-known educator who often offers comment and analysis on religion, racism, and justice on social media also called out the blocking of the hashtag.
It's also unclear as to why some users are able to see the hashtag while others can't. While five people in the Gadgets 360 team and their family couldn't see the hashtag, four others were able to see it. We have sent these questions to both Facebook and Instagram and will update this story after confirming the details.
Editor's Note: Updated with Instagram's statement.
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