Instagram Criticised After Blocking Memorial Hashtag

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Instagram says it blocked hashtag commemorating victims of Iran airline disaster ‘by mistake’ as social media giants face growing regulatory pressure

Instagram has apologised for blocking a hashtag used to commemorate the victims of a Ukrainian airliner mistakenly shot down by Iranian security forces in January 2020.

The company, owned by social media giant Meta, said the tag had been “restricted by mistake”.

Those using the hashtag #IWillLightACandletoo, as well as its Persian version, found their posts were not visible to other users.

The block was lifted after almost 24 hours, and only after several Persian-speaking activists and media organisations contacted Instagram/Meta.

InstagramRestricted in error

“We became aware that these hashtags had been restricted by mistake, and worked quickly to fix it,” the company said in a statement.

“You should now be able to use these hashtags as normal, and we’re so sorry for any inconvenience or confusion caused.”

The company’s auto-response had said the posts were “limited because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s Community Guidelines”.

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down by two Iranian missiles on 8 January 2020, amidst tensions with the United States.

Iran blamed human error for the disaster, saying an air defence unit mistook the Boeing 737-800 for a US missile.

Nine crew and 167 passengers were killed in the strike.

‘Easily deceived’

Canada, Britain, Sweden and Ukraine have been involved in talks with Iran over reparations, but said last week they would instead resort to international law. Iran said in response it was open to bilateral negotiations.

Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesman for the Association of Families of the Victims using the hashtag, told the BBC that companies such as Meta were “easily deceived by the cyber armies of authoritarian regimes”.

Middle East cybersecurity expert Amir Rashidi said it was likely that users affiliated with the Iranian regime had reported the hashtag to cause it to be blocked.

Users in Iran had also accused Instagram – the only social-media platform not blocked in the country – of restricting a hashtag used to commemorate Qasem Soleimani, a senior Iranian military officer killed by a US drone strike on 3 January 2020.

Social media companies have come under increasing pressure from governments and regulators over the content they publish or restrict.