#NewsBytesExplainer: Unraveling the messy Meta v/s 'The Wire' saga
Meta is embroiled in a bitter conflict with Indian news outlet The Wire. The publication's allegation that the parent of Facebook and Instagram removed an Instagram post at the behest of an Indian politician is where the controversy began. The issue has gained momentum since then, even attracting findings from users outside. Here, we let take a closer look at the messy affair.
Everything started over a meme removed by Instagram for nudity
The subject matter of the controversy is an Instagram post by @cringearchivist. In September, the account posted a meme of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath being worshipped by a supporter. According to the owner of the account, Instagram removed the post for nudity. The account's attempts to appeal the removal didn't come to fruition as well. The owner then approached The Wire.
An article was published questioning the arbitrary removal
On October 6, The Wire reported that Instagram removed several satirical posts of @cringearchivist. The report gave special emphasis to the Adityanath meme. The report questioned the rationale behind removing the post on nudity when it had none.
'The Wire' met with an internal source
The removal of the meme could have been a glitch, but The Wire had a different opinion. According to the publication, it approached Meta for its response and didn't get any. Earlier this year, someone working in Meta met with journalists from The Wire with an offer to share the social media giant's internal workings. The publication went to this source about the post-removal.
What did 'The Wire' allege?
On October 10, another article was published. In this, The Wire alleged that the meme was removed at the behest of Amit Malviya, the incharge of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) IT cell. The publication claimed that Malviya has 'XCheck' or 'cross-check' privileges. The article written by Jahanvi Sen said that post was taken down without review because it was flagged by Malviya.
What is Meta's XCheck program?
XCheck or cross-check is a real but controversial program of Meta that came into the public eye following a report by The Wall Street Journal. It gives high-profile users more leeway on Meta's platforms. Apparently, their content bypasses typical moderation processes of Instagram and Facebook.
'The Wire' doubled down with more evidence
The Wire then doubled down on Meta with more evidence after Meta began to push back. The publication said that it has obtained emails from Andy Stone, Meta's policy communications director, admitting the realness of the story. To prove the veracity of the email, it used a tool called dkimpy, which validates the email's DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) signature.
'The Wire' released video of internal source accessing workplace forum
DKIM is a protocol that proves that an email came from where it actually did. The Wire even said that two independent security experts agreed that the email is real. The publication also published another video showing its source navigating Instagram's internal workplace forum. It said that employees can only access this through the company's internal subdomain, instagram.workplace.com.
How did Meta respond to the allegations?
Meta came out with a lengthy rebuttal to The Wire's claims. It said that the purpose of XCheck is to prevent over-enforcement mistakes. It added, "Our cross-check program does not grant enrolled accounts the power to automatically have the content removed from our platform." This response came after The Wire's story gained traction in the US and UK. The company called the allegations false.
Meta and Stone call out the legitimacy of video, email
Stone called the email fake. He wrote, "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 @thewire_in's stories are based on fabrications." Meta called the video of the workplace a spoof. It said that a user made an external Meta Workplace account and changed the branding.
A legal and policy analyst called out 'The Wire's evidence
It wasn't just Meta that found holes in The Wire's reporting. Pranesh Prakash, a legal and policy analyst who co-founded the Centre for Internet and Society, spotted an instance in the video where the cursor makes an abrupt jump. This raises more doubts about how real the video is. He also posted screenshots saying that The Wire doctored expert emails.
Check out Pranesh Prakash's thread on Meta-Wire controversy
The DKIM-signature that's supposedly been verified by @thewire_in only has 6 headers, doesn't include "to:" field in "h=". So it cannot verify the "to:" header.— Pranesh Prakash (@pranesh) October 15, 2022
(Also recent fb\.com mails' DKIM (3rd img) covers 7 headers incl "to:"!)
Why didn't journos or 2 experts notice? pic.twitter.com/HLL1WpLttS
Malviya doesn't follow @cringeactivist, a private account
Prakash has posted a video on Twitter that shows that DKIM verification can be faked even by people who aren't tech-savvy. He also questioned how Malviya reported @cringearchivist's post. It should be noted that the @cringearchivists is a private account and Malviya doesn't follow it.
Malviya couldn't have flagged the now-removed Adityanath post
Because they mailed Siddharth Varadarajan.— Pranesh Prakash (@pranesh) October 16, 2022
The question to ask @cringearchivist:
1) What was your account's visibility set to on the day your Yogi Adityanath post was removed?
2) If it was private, was Malviya's official account a follower of your account on that date?
What did the experts say?
Prakash also reached out to the experts who claimed to have verified Stone's email. One of the experts, Karan Saini (@Kani5hk) said that he did not do the DKIM verification. Ujjwal Kumar, a lead architect at Microsoft, was another expert The Wire approached. He has recanted his testimony and asked the publication to remove every mention of him.
'The Wire' has suspended all Meta stories
In light of its experts backtracking, The Wire has decided to suspend all stories regarding the matter until further review. If you want to check any article about the issue on the platform, you won't be able to find it.