TECH NEWS – Instagram has blocked posts using the hashtag used to commemorate the victims of a Ukrainian airliner shot down by Iranian security forces two years ago.
Family members of the 176 victims were surprised to find that posts on Instagram with the hashtag #IWillLightACandletoo, or its Persian version, were not visible to users.
A cybersecurity expert said Iran may have orchestrated the blocking by announcing the posts.
The social media giant said the hashtag was “restricted by mistake”
Two missiles hit Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 after it took off from Tehran on 8 January 2020. Iran blamed the disaster on human error, saying an air defence unit mistook the Boeing 737-800 for a US missile.
Nine crew members and 167 passengers were killed in the horrific crash. Ukraine dismissed the results of Iran’s investigation into the crash as a “cynical attempt to conceal the truth.”
The Association of Families of the Victims began using the hashtag #IWillLightACandletoo as a sign of solidarity a few days before the second anniversary of the accident but found that the tag had been disabled.
“It was deeply disappointing, there was nothing offensive about the hashtags, but sadly big firms like Facebook [now called Meta and which owns Instagram] are easily deceived by the cyber armies of authoritarian regimes,” said Hamed Esmaeilion, a spokesman for the association, which lost both its wife and daughter in the incident.
Instagram’s automated response said the posts had “been limited because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s Community Guidelines”
It’s unclear who reported the hashtag and why, but Middle East cybersecurity expert Amir Rashidi suspects the whole thing was staged.
“It is likely that users close to Iran have reported the hashtag and machines that lack enough knowledge of local politics decided to ban them. This enables authoritarian regimes to exploit social media platforms,” said Rashidi, director of digital rights and security at Miaan Group.
The block was lifted after almost 24 hours, and only after several Persian-speaking activists and media organisations contacted Instagram/Meta.
When contacted by the BBC, a Meta spokesperson responded that “we became aware that these hashtags had been restricted by mistake, and worked quickly to fix it. You should now be able to use these hashtags as normal, and we’re so sorry for any inconvenience or confusion caused.”
But this isn’t the only time Instagram has restricted a hashtag or post.
According to several Iranian users, Instagram has banned content depicting police brutality in recent weeks, citing the violent nature of the videos.
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— PS752Justice (@ps752justice) January 5, 2022