The digital space is teeming with Meta (formerly Facebook) competing with The Wire, a non-profit news website (as its founders claim) for its two articles based on “fabricated” and “forged” documents. Meta’s response was harsh and unrestrained when Andy Stone of Meta Communications called Sidharth Varadarajan, the editor of The Wire.
An internal Instagram report reviewed by The Wire “makes clear that the reported post was removed immediately without any of the company’s moderators looking at it,” the site wrote, adding that any posts flagged by Malviya were the same way: “an immediate publication” removal from the platform, no questions asked.”
A source from Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, told The Wire that Malviya reported more than 700 posts in September, all of which were removed.
The Wire story included a copy of the internal report, which it said confirmed Malviya’s ability to remove content from the platforms, and which included timestamps, purportedly corresponding to when the posts were removed, that read: “No Required revision. Reason: The reporting user has XCheck privileges.”
What’s the whole matter?
On October 10, The Wire, an independent media outlet, reported that Amit Malviya, the social media manager of the BJP party, was able to order the removal of Instagram posts, regardless of their content, by flagging them through the reporting system.
An internal Instagram report reviewed by The Wire “makes clear that the reported post was removed immediately without any of the company’s moderators looking at it,” the site wrote, adding that any posts flagged by Malviya were the same way “an immediate removal from the platform, no questions asked.”
A source from Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, told The Wire that Malviya reported more than 700 posts in September, all of which were removed. The Wire story included a copy of the internal report, which it said confirmed Malviya’s ability to remove content from the platforms, and which included timestamps, purportedly corresponding to when the posts were removed, that read: “No Required revision. Reason: The reporting user has XCheck privileges.”
According to The Wire, these takedowns were allowed because Malviya is part of a Meta program called X Check or Cross Check, the existence of which was revealed by the Wall Street Journal in September 2021, as part of the newspaper’s report on a trove of documents released by Frances Haugen, former Facebook security staffer turned whistleblower.
Under the Cross-Check program, the Journal reported, “some users are ‘whitelisted,’ that is, immune from enforcement actions, while others are allowed to post material that violates the rules pending review of Facebook employees who often never show up. (The Journal report did not mention authorizations for political figures to order the removal of content from Facebook or Instagram.)
In a response to The Wire, Meta spokesman Andy Stone said the Cross-Check program “has nothing to do with the ability to report posts.” He added that all of the posts mentioned by The Wire “appeared for review by automated systems” and suggested that the document on which her story is based “appears to be fabricated.”
In a follow-up story on Tuesday, Sen and Siddharth Varadarajan, co-founders of The Wire, posted a screenshot of what they said was an internal email from Stone, which The Wire said was provided by a source at Meta.
The email demands to know “how the hell” the internal document about the Instagram takedowns was leaked and requests an activity report on the document. The email also requests that a staff member contact Sen and get more information about the document and how it was leaked; according to The Wire’s report, Sen received calls and WhatsApp messages from a member of Meta’s communications team in India within thirty minutes of sending the email.
Why ‘The Wire’ report seems fabricated
In addition, the journalists also pointed out some discrepancies in the content of the email. Alex Stamos, a researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory, argued that such a written communication from a public relations executive seemed unlikely. Also, Varadarajan’s name is written as “Varadaran” and a Like button in the email is not aligned with other buttons. Aakar Patel, a former journalist and director of Amnesty India, said the language used in Stone’s email appeared to be written by an Indian.
In a Twitter thread “A couple of quick observations on affair Indian XCheck and The Wire’s last update. 1) Nothing on this page is something that can be verified by me or any other reader. We would need the actual email to do so”. The emails from the experts were originally timestamped in 2021 in the screenshots posted by The Wire. They silently changed their post to update them to 2022. You can still see the 2021 screenshot in this thread:
Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower, tweeted that The Wire’s stories are based on documents that are “clearly false.” Former and current Facebook employees were also skeptical of the documents The Wire relied on, she said.
A reporter for the American personal finance website MarketWatch, Shoshana Wodinsky, tweeted that the link mentioned in The Wire’s internal Instagram report did not exist. She also wrote that Stone’s email seemed bogus like “any email sent by andy…; would be ‘@meta,’ not ‘@fb,'” and that there is no email group called “Internal,” as seen in The Wire’s report. In October 2021, Facebook changed its business name to Meta.
- Users with Xcheck/cross-check privileges cannot have content removed from the platform with no questions asked.
- This article was also based on allegedly leaked screenshots from our internal tools. We believe this document is fabricated. The URL on that “report” is not in use. The naming convention is one we don’t use. There is no such report.
- We did not identify a user report regarding the @cringearchivist content in September as reported.
- The second story cites emails from a Meta employee – the screenshot included in the story has two emails – both are fake. There are no such emails.
- The same story references an internal journalist “watch list.” No such list exists.
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