Friday, November 20, 2015

Was Modi Persona Non-grata in the UK in 2003?

New Delhi, Nov. 19: Links to a former Indian envoy's write-up questioning Narendra Modi's claim of being "welcomed with great respect" in Britain in 2003 went missing on Facebook for "more than 24 hours" before being restored.
At a London news conference attended by the Prime Minister last week, a question was asked about his being purportedly prevented from visiting Britain until recently because of the 2002 violence in Gujarat.
Modi replied that he wanted to "keep the record straight" - he had visited the UK in 2003 "and was welcomed with great respect" but could not visit again until this year owing to "time constraints".
Satyabrata Pal, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, was deputy high commissioner in London in 2003. He has written an article on the news website, where he says Modi's 2003 trip had come against the wishes of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the British government.
The article was shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook after it was posted on Tuesday. But on Wednesday morning, Facebook users found the link missing on their timelines. It could no longer be shared on Facebook directly from
Facebook displayed a number of messages when people tried to post the article or open the link from comments on the posts. The messages either said the link was unsafe or that it was abusive.
"I have no idea why Facebook blocked the story and I have received no communication or explanation despite sending a complaint yesterday morning. It was resolved this morning after more than 24 hours," Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of, said.
Facebook issued a cryptic apology today, saying: "The content was mistakenly captured by our spam filter and has now been restored. We are sorry for the error and inconvenience caused."
Dheeraj Sanghi, a professor of computer science and engineering at the IIIT here, said websites like Facebook use both automatic and manual filters for unsolicited, harmful or offensive posts.
"There are artificial intelligence-based techniques. For example, a researcher in our institute found that false tweets (by robots) tend to have more spelling errors than real tweets. There are similarities in the size or the timing of the posts, which AI filters will mark as spam," he said.
"However, I would not rule out a website blocking a post manually without examining its content. They can do this when they receive complaints against a particular post."
It's the second possibility that several social media users have alleged, linking it to Modi's visit to Facebook's US headquarters in September.
Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: "Amazing how much hate and abuse can be posted on @facebook but a first hand account by a former diplomat is blocked on people's walls!"
India got Facebook to censor more content -over 15,000 pieces - than any other country in the first half of this year.
Pal has written that Britain's foreign office had asked the Indian mission ahead of Modi's 2003 visit to convey to New Delhi "their request" that Modi "decline the invitation from his supporters in the UK in the larger interest of bilateral relations".
When the mission recommended to South Block that Modi "be advised against the visit", Pal writes, "it was told the external affairs minister (Yashwant Sinha) agreed that it would be best for him not to go, but that his advice had been brushed aside by Modi".
"Astonishingly, the high commission was then told that, after his rebuff, the... minister had gone to Prime Minister Vajpayee, who had concurred that the visit was undesirable and must be aborted, but that it was nevertheless going ahead," Pal writes.
"The word, sotto voce, was that other voices, which could not be ignored, had insisted that if Narendra Modi had received an invitation, he must be allowed to accept it."
Pal writes: "The Home Office issued a statement in which it said, with neither warmth nor respect: 'We are aware he's visiting the UK. He is not visiting at Her Majesty's government's invitation nor does the government plan to have any contact with him when he's here."

No comments: