Instagram has apologized for a mistake in hiding a hashtag used to highlight those who died when Iran's IRGC shot down a Ukrainian airliner January 8, 2020.
In separate tweets Thursday, BBC Persianand Voice of America's Persian servicereported that in response to enquiries, Meta, mother company of Instagram, has said it had become aware these hashtags had been mistakenly restricted and had taken remedial action.
Instagram hid the hashtag #IWillLightACandleToo and its equivalent in Persian on January 4 in line with its policy of deleting offensive, explicit, or otherwise inappropriate content.
The hashtag was proposed by Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesman of a Canada-based association representing some victims of the downed flight. He lost his wife and daughter in the incident.
"The cyber-army is not leaving the families alone in these black days," Esmaeilion wrote in a tweet, alleging that people “affiliated to the Iranian government” had reported the hashtag to Instagram.
Flight PS752 was hit by two surface-to-air missiles in the tense aftermath of Iran's missile attack on United States military bases in Iraq retaliating for the US killing with a drone strike Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and nine others in Baghdad.
Iran failed to close the civilian airspace, although it said it was expecting a US response. This led to the tragic downing of the plane. Iran claimed a radar mis-alignment and human error.
Ten military personnel involved in the action went on trial in November, but some victims' families boycotted proceedings saying they lacked transparency and due process.
Hackers and heroes
On Tuesday hackers interrupted a video briefing by lawyers for some victims' relatives, playing clips of loud, obscene rap music and showing images including a doll with sharp teeth, a dog with shining eyes, and a man running towards a camera and pretending to kick it.
In recent days, some social media users supporting the Islamic Republic have protested against Instagram, the only major social-media platform not blocked in Iran, for restricting the hashtag #hero used to commemorate Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) extraterritorial Quds Force, on the second anniversary of his death and for removing photos of the general.
"To take revenge on Instagram, we will take action together to eliminate this malware," read a poster for the Campaign to Eliminate Instagram promoted by Fars News agency, which is affiliated to the IRGC.
According to Fars, the campaign has succeeded in dropping Instagram's rating in the region on Google Play from 4.4 out of five to 2.2 in ratings. The lower rating, Fars wrote, would reduce Instagram’s market value.
Fars said the “more important point” was “the loud message given to Instagram by the Iranian people in protest against censoring their national hero…[and in showing] that they will not remain silent about this cyber terrorism.”
On Thursday the International Coordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752 − made up of Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom − issued a statementaccusing Iran of avoiding international legal responsibilities, including by refusing to negotiate with it.
The group said further negotiation was futile and it would “focus on subsequent actions…to resolve this matter in accordance with international law.”Iran has offered to pay $150,000 in compensation for each person lost.