The Wire retracts Meta stories, Tek Fog investigation to be reviewed too

Due to discrepancies that came to light during its review of the Meta stories, The Wire said it will also review the previous reporting done by the technical team involved in its Meta coverage.
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The Wire has retracted its contentious reports on Meta’s content moderation policies, the news website announced on Sunday, October 23. Earlier on October 18, The Wire had announced its decision to conduct an internal review of its coverage of Meta – a series of reports which began with the sensational claim that the social media giant had given special privileges to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJPS)'s IT cell head Amit Malviya, under its secretive XCheck programme, to have posts taken down as per his wish. The Wire has also removed its stories on Tek Fog – an app alleged to have been used by BJP workers to manipulate social media – published in January 2022. Due to discrepancies that came to light during its review of the Meta stories, The Wire said it will also review the previous reporting done by the technical team involved in its Meta coverage – including the Tek Fog stories co-written by Devesh Kumar, who had also worked on the Meta stories. 

Announcing its retraction of the Meta stories, The Wire said, “We are still reviewing the entire matter, including the possibility that it was deliberately sought to misinform or deceive The Wire. Lapses in editorial oversight are also being reviewed, as are editorial roles, so that failsafe protocols are put in place ensuring the accuracy of all source-based reporting.”


The Wire’s disputed coverage of Meta began with a story on October 6, about an Instagram post by a meme page being taken down earlier in September. The post by the page Superhumans’ Archive of Cringetopia mocked a video of a man worshipping an idol of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The Wire reported that the post was taken down instantly citing ‘sexual activity and nudity’, despite not showing such content. 

This was followed by the first sensational story published on October 10, which claimed that Meta had given special privileges to BJP leader Amit Malviya under its controversial XCheck programme to take down posts as he wished, without a review by Meta. The Wall Street Journal had earlier reported that under XCheck, Meta gives special privileges to a few influential users including politicians, with their posts enjoying additional protection compared to regular users. The October 10 story included a screenshot of an internal report of Instagram – a post-incident review report which indicated that the deleted post had been reported by Amit Malviya’s account. 

At this stage, Meta had called the stories fabrications, and also alleged that the internal report cited by The Wire “appears to be fabricated”. A day later, on October 11, The Wire published another story with screenshots of what they claimed was an internal email sent by Andy Stone to his team, in which he purportedly wrote: “How the hell [Instagram internal report] got leaked? Who is the reporter, not on our watchlist, and why didn’t any of you bother to link me up?” The email further asked to put The Wire’s Jahnavi Sen and Siddharth Varadarajan on a watchlist and to contact them for more information about the Instagram internal document. 

By now, a few independent observers familiar with Meta’s operations, including Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang, journalist Shoshana Wodinsky and former Chief Security Officer at Facebook Alex Stamos, also raised doubts about the authenticity of the documents accessed by The Wire – both the Instagram internal document and the Andy Stone email. 

On October 15, The Wire published yet another story, by Devesh Kumar, Jahnavi Sen and Siddharth Varadarajan. Stating that it stood by its stories so far, it posted a video of one of its reporters verifying the authenticity of the Andy Stone email. It said that this verification process was shown to two independent domain experts on a video call, and shared screenshots of emails from these experts – Ujjwal Kumar from Microsoft, and another unnamed independent security researcher – confirming the validity of their process. Both of these emails were shown to be addressed to Devesh Kumar. 

After this, Pranesh Prakash, co-founder of the Centre for Internet and Society, who was one of the experts initially contacted by The Wire to authenticate the Andy Stone email, raised questions about the outlet's verification process. While he was informed by Siddharth Varadarajan that the unnamed independent security researcher who vetted The Wire’s email verification process was Kanishk Karan, Kanishk himself denied doing so. More recently, the second expert named in the story Ujjwal Kumar too denied conducting the verification. 

After announcing the decision to review the Meta stories, in an interview with Platformer, The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan said that its reporter Devesh Kumar was the only person who had met the source who had provided the Instagram incident report. He said that a different source had provided the Andy Stone email – someone whom multiple colleagues had interacted with over four to five months. 

After initiating an internal review of the Meta stories, The Wire on Sunday retracted them. Meanwhile, the Tek Fog investigation, co-authored by Ayushman Kaul and Devesh Kumar, has also been taken down. “This story has been removed from public view pending the outcome of an internal review by The Wire, as one of its authors was part of the technical team involved in our now retracted Meta coverage,” reads a page, where the link to the Tek Fog story now lands. The investigative report had claimed that an app called Tek Fog was being used by people associated with the BJP's IT cell to manipulate social media by using inactive WhatsApp accounts to spread propaganda, and ‘hijacking’ trending topics on social media platforms.

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