Protesting farmers denied being covered by mainstream Indian media as they said leading media houses are misleading their protest and they are presenting wrong image of farmers.  Young farmers started using social media to support their protest but these also went out of their favour. Social media instead of easing their problems it brought one more. Facebook briefly suspended and then restored the page of Kisan Ekta Morcha (KEM) after social media outrage on Sunday evening. The tech giant admitted to TOI that it had removed the Facebook page, saying it regretted the inconvenience caused. Around 7.30pm, KEM tweeted that their Facebook page was “unpublished”. The farmers collective also provided a screenshot of the page, which said, “Your page has been unpublished. This is because Kisan Ekta Morcha goes against our community standards on spam.”

“This is what they can do when people raise their voices. When they can’t beat us ideologically,” KEM wrote along with the screenshot. Several farmers’ bodies have formed an informal “IT Cell” to disseminate information on the ongoing protest against the Centre’s farm laws and counter misinformation against farmers.

Facebook briefly suspended and then restored the page of Kisan Ekta Morcha (KEM) after social media outrage on Sunday evening. The tech giant admitted to TOI that it had removed the Facebook page, saying it regretted the inconvenience caused.

Around 7.30pm, KEM tweeted that their Facebook page was “unpublished”. The farmers collective also provided a screenshot of the page, which said, “Your page has been unpublished. This is because Kisan Ekta Morcha goes against our community standards on spam.”

“This is what they can do when people raise their voices. When they can’t beat us ideologically,” KEM wrote along with the screenshot.

Several farmers’ bodies have formed an informal “IT Cell” to disseminate information on the ongoing protest against the Centre’s farm laws and counter misinformation against farmers.”They unpublished the page without any notification. We only got a pop-up around 7pm. We have just been explaining the drawbacks of the bill. How does that violate any policy?” asked Baljeet Singh Sandhu, the vice president of Majha Kisan committee, one of the organisations which was behind forming the social media accounts of farmers. Sandhu added that Facebook restored the page only after “pressure”.

“We’ve restored Kisan Ekta Morcha’s Facebook page and regret the inconvenience caused,” a Facebook spokesperson told TOI.

The news of KEM suspension had led to a flurry of reaction on Twitter. Several users accused Facebook of stifling dissent. “The action taken by Facebook to close the Kisan Ekta Morcha requires a close look at its content moderation practices and policies. India has close to 300 million Facebook users. It’s largest market. Even then there is little transparency or accountability,” digital advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation tweeted.

The social media accounts of the joint forum of farmers were blocked on Sunday evening, within a few hours of a live press conference broadcast through their Facebook page. As the issue snowballed into an embarrassing controversy, the pages were unblocked. Farmer union leaders alleged that their Facebook and Instagram handles started last week  were blocked this evening, within a few minutes of their press conference. Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India, who has been at the forefront of the farmers’ agitation, was reportedly doing a live session on Facebook when the social media handle Kisan Ekta Morcha was blocked.

“This once again raises serious questions about the online censorship that this BJP government is indulging in. On one hand, we have the entire hi-tech team of the BJP spreading “misinformation” about the farmers’ protest, and on the other, our social media handles have been blocked,” alleged Dr Darshan Pal, president of Krantikari Kisan Union.

The farmer unions had launched their social media accounts last week, with a team led by Baljit Singh handling the operation. The idea, say farm leaders, was to counter the “negative narrative” spread by the government and to give their side of the story to the masses, explaining why they were protesting. A number of young farmers, and their friends had launched the official social media account for the farmer unions four days back. Together, the two social media platforms have close to seven lakh followers and these are being used by the agitating farmers to broadcast their opinions and announce the next course of action in the ongoing protest.

Baljit Singh, who was heading this IT operation, said it was strange that the pages were blocked without any notification being given by the platforms. “Obviously, the government is behind it. They are scared that our narrative telecast on social media will clear all misconceptions the government is trying to create in the minds of the public,” he alleged. The move to block the social media handles comes close after the Income Tax raids on the commission agents of Punjab.

Written by : Aadya Rani