Update October 26th, 6:42PM ET: After retracting its story on Meta, The Wire posted an update stating it was subject to “deception” by a staff member. Here’s how the story unfolded previously.
Meta — Facebook and Instagram’s parent company — is at the center of controversy in India, where a local publication claimed the company removed an Instagram post on behalf of an Indian politician. Meta pushed back on these claims and accused the outlet of using “fabricated” evidence.
After Meta and several experts online found inconsistencies in The Wire’s reporting, the outlet decided to suspend access to its stories on October 18th and conduct an “internal review” of the documents it used as evidence. It later retracted its report on October 23rd due to “certain discrepancies” that emerged in its reporting.
It’s an unusually difficult story to keep track of, drawing on the nuances of Indian politics, email forensics, and Meta’s contentious relationship with the press. So we’ve boiled down the last couple weeks of chaos into a simple recap of what’s happened and why it matters.
On October 6th, independent Indian news publication The Wire published an article about how Instagram incorrectly took down a satirical image of a man worshipping Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The owner of the account, @cringearchivist, says Instagram removed the post for violating its “sexual activity and nudity” policies, even though it did not contain sexual activity or nudity.
Many had assumed the post was flagged due to a glitch in some automated system, but The Wire said this wasn’t true. An internal source at Meta reportedly told The Wire the company removed the post at the request of Amit Malviya, the head of the information technology cell at India’s ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (or BJP), but holes in The Wire’s reporting make these allegations questionable.
Meta has since denied The Wire’s report. It accuses the outlet of spreading false information and has attempted to debunk the “fabricated evidence” provided by The Wire’s source, stating that it hopes The Wire “is the victim of this hoax, not the perpetrator.” After adamantly defending its claims, The Wire has taken the responses from Meta and users online into account and said it’s going to “review its reporting on Meta.” The outlet later made the decision to retract its story entirely due to various inconsistencies in the documents it initially presented as evidence, which we’ll go over below.
Essentially, The Wire reported that Malviya got the post banned by using special privileges given to high-profile users. To back up these claims, they published screenshots of the documentation Instagram allegedly uses as part of its internal review process, which list Malviya’s Instagram handle, @amitmalviya, as the user who reported @cringearchivist’s post. The document also stated Malviya “has XCheck privileges” and that another review of the reported content is “not required.”
The XCheck program is indisputably real: last year, a report from The Wall Street Journal revealed that Meta uses an XCheck, or cross-check, system that lets high-profile users avoid Facebook and Instagram’s typical moderation processes. But The Wire’s reporting seemed to show this was being used for partisan political ends in India, allowing Malviya to “post as he likes without the rules governing the platform applying to him.”
Meta responded to the allegations by saying its cross-check program “does not grant enrolled accounts the power to automatically have content removed from our platform.” It adds that the policy was put in place to “prevent potential over-enforcement mistakes and to double-check cases where a decision could require more understanding.”