From “Deception” to Withdrawal and Apology

Late on Wednesday night, news outlet The Wire, which is caught in the centre of a significant storm apologised to its readers after retracting a story that it said was a result of ‘deception’ by a “member of its Meta investigation team”. The story in question was an October 6th report published by it which accused Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta of taking orders from the BJP’s IT chief, Amit Malviya.

According to The Wire, the stories did not “hold up” due to a combination of “not fully grasping the complexities of technology and a slippage in editorial assessment of tech-related matters”. Furthermore, the editorial team at The Wire has taken “moral responsibility for the omission.”

Meanwhile, BJP’s Amit Malviya has decided to initiate civil and criminal proceedings against The Wire. “Not only will I be setting the criminal process in motion but I will also sue them in a civil court seeking damages as they forged documents with a view to malign and tarnish my reputation,” he said in a statement.

The Wire alleged in its story that Instagram took down a satirical post against Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath at the behest of Amit Malviya. The publication claimed that an internal source at Meta said that the post was taken down at the request of the BJP’s information technology chief.

Meta was quick to respond, as it categorically denied the claims made in the news publication, saying false information was being spread and that it would debunk the “fabricated evidence”. The Wire had claimed that Amit Malviya has special privileges given to him by Meta, which gave him the right to unilaterally get controversial posts that he and the ruling party did not like removed from Instagram.

To back such claims, The Wire published screenshots it claimed showed Malviya’s Instagram handle as the user who reported the post on Instagram. These documents showed Amit Malviya having “XCheck privileges” on Instagram. In response, Meta said the XCheck program does not give users the power to automatically have content removed from its platforms.

The Wire has also been accused of fabricating evidence by Meta in order to prove the legitimacy of its now-withdrawn report. Guy Rosen, Meta’s chief information officer, says the URL included in the screenshots provided by The Wire does not actually exist, adding, “It appears to be a fabrication.”

To counter such claims, The Wire went on to post a video claiming to show a user scrolling through a list of alleged “post-incident reports involving VIPS” on Instagram’s backend, which the publication claimed can only be accessed by Meta employees with access to an internal subdomain,

Again, this was countered by Meta, which said that it had evidence to prove that a user made an external Meta Workplace account. This page, Meta said, was altered to make it look like the domain belonged to Instagram.

Other evidence provided by the publication to back its report was also blemished after Meta claimed it was entirely fabricated. The evidence in question here was an alleged email by Meta’s policy communications director, Andy Stone in which The Wire claimed Mr. Stone had expressed frustration and asked for the journalists behind the report to be put on a “watchlist.”

Andy Stone took to Twitter to refute the email, saying, “I know – and whoever is now going to increasing lengths to fabricate this story knows – this is completely false. I never sent, wrote, or even thought what’s expressed in that supposed email, as it’s been clear from the outset that [The Wire’s] stories are based on fabrications.”

The Wire claimed the email’s veracity was ascertained using a tool that validates the email’s DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) signature. The DKIM signature validation was used by the publication to claim that the email existed, and that it came from a Meta subdomain. Since the domain was that which belonged to Meta, The Wire claimed that the email was very much true and was indeed sent around by Andy Stone.

The Wire claimed it had verified the veracity of the email by consulting external cybersecurity experts. However, the publication’s alleged communications with such cybersecurity experts have also been called into question.

There was a mismatch in the dates of the emails exchanged between The Wire and the supposed cybersecurity officials. While the original report published on the Wire’s website showed the email’s year as 2022, an archived version of the article showed the email to be dated 2021.

At least two cybersecurity experts have denied providing The Wire with any inputs regarding the DKIM signature validation that the publication asked for. A policy manager for online platforms, Kanishk Karan claimed that The Wire referred to him as an “independent security expert” and attributed a fake email address to his name. Kumar claimed that while he was indeed contacted by The Wire, he refused to validate the DKIM signature.

Another expert, Ujjwal Kumal has also denied engaging with The Wire to verify the DKIM signature of Andy Stone’s purported email.

That opened the floodgates for The Wire to be accused of fabricating evidence to validate its report after the fact. By October 23, The Wire retracted its controversial story, saying it had come across “certain discrepancies” in the report and the processes that were followed prior to its publication.

Now, the said report has been withdrawn altogether, with the publication saying it had been deceived by a “member of [its] Meta investigation team”, essentially indicating that the outlet got duped by one of its own employees who has now been let go.

The withdrawal of the Meta reports by The Wire has also called into question its investigations into the supposed ‘Tek Fog’ scandal, in which it accused the BJP of manipulating social media trends and setting its own narrative. The Wire recently also pulled down its Tek Fog reportage after the Meta controversy broke out.

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