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Facebook apologizes after blocking links to left-wing news outlet in India

Mass flagging is thought to be to blame.
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This is by no means a new type of accusation leveled at a giant social network: that content is being censored or blocked without any valid or clear reason given. In recent times, we’ve seen it happen to more conservative news outlets and websites, but in India a liberal news outlet has had to Facebook censorship in the last week.

This time it’s coming from the Gauri Memorial Trust in India, that is attempting to preserve the legacy of murdered journalist Gauri Lankesh, but is coming up against Facebook who is blocking links to articles published by the website ran by the organization.

Gauri, the Bangalore-based editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, was a prominent left-wing journalist, who was assassinated in September 2017 in front of her home.

The Trust now says that Facebook scrubbed the platform of all links leading to the website by blocking new and hiding old ones, while giving only the generic explanation that this content “violates Facebook’s community standards.”

The Trust said that this was not a valid reason for the censorship, calling Facebook’s action “a dark day.”

As is often the case, the organization then attempted to contact Facebook and try to persuade them that the website, naanugauri.com, is a legitimate operation that respects ethical and journalistic norms and should therefore not be blacklisted in this way.

The Trust mentions that the now blocked articles came from some well-known and respected Indian authors, journalists, academics and activists. They also have an idea what might have led to the blocking on Facebook – this content getting flagged by political and ideological opponents, while these complaints are described as false by the Trust.

Once again, not for the first time, Facebook’s moderation and censorship system is found to be lacking, as it tends to accept accusations of violations of guidelines without properly examining them first.

It’s easy to see how other outlets can be censored as a result of activists mass-flagging the page or a post in order to get it shadow banned or blocked.

The Gauri Memorial Trust is hoping that Facebook would do this now and allow the sharing of links to what is described as a trustworthy news source.

There had been some controversy after Gauri’s assassination around ownership issues, concerning who gets to continue publishing her weekly print tabloid, with the naanugauri.com eventually launching in the spring of 2018.

But whether any of this, or the heated and divisive Indian politics are behind the blocking on Facebook is unknown – because all Facebook said is that is: “the posts that mentioned the URL were removed in error (technical issue) and have now been restored. We apologize for the mistake.”

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