Instagram blocks hashtag for Iran downed Ukraine jet victims

Instagram blocks hashtag for Iran downed Ukraine jet victims
A hashtag used by families remember the victims of the downed Ukrainian airlines flight was blocked by Instagram after a suspected coordinated reporting campaign.
3 min read
08 January, 2022
All 167 passengers and nine crew members were killed in the tragedy [Getty]

Instagram hashtags used to remember the victims of the Ukraine Airlines flight shot down by Iran were blocked by the social media giant Instagram, according to BBC Persian

The hashtag #IWilllightACandletoo and its Persian counterpart did not appear on the social media site when used by the family members of the victims

According to a cybersecurity expert, the blocking of the hashtag was as a result of a coordinated campaign by Iran to report posts using the hashtag. 

The mass reporting resulted in the hashtag being blocked by Instagram, who later said that it was “restricted by mistake”.

Family members, who lost loved ones when the plane was shot down, expressed their disappointment at the blocking of the hashtag. 

“It was deeply disappointing, there was nothing offensive about the hashtags, but sadly big firms like Facebook are easily deceived by the cyber armies of authoritarian regimes,” Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesman for the Association of Families of the Victims’ said.

Esmaeilion lost his wife and daughter in the downing. 

Instagram users who wanted to use the hashtag were met with an automated response, saying that posts were “limited because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram's Community Guidelines.”

A cybersecurity expert, who spoke with BBC Persian, explained that the blocking was likely the result of an orchestrated attack. 

“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,” Amir Rashidi, Director of digital rights and security at the Miaan Group said. 

Instagram was alerted to the issue and lifted the block. 

“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,” a spokesperson for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, said. 

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Families were using the #IWillLightACandletoo hashtag to remember the victims of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was hit on 8 January 2020, by two Iranian missiles after taking off from Tehran.

All 167 passengers and nine crew were killed in the downing. 

An investigation by Iran blamed the incident on human error, claiming that an air defence unit had believed the Boeing 737-800 was a US missile. 

The downing of the plane occurred during a period of heighten tension between the US and Iran, and just days after a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.