Explained: Why BJP’s Amit Malviya is suing ‘The Wire’

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It’s not the first time The Wire, a news and opinion website, has taken on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, the latest flashpoint between the two has not ended well for the left-leaning publication. BJP’s social media cell chief Amit Malviya has said he will sue The Wire over a series of reports on Meta, the parent company of Instagram. The articles have now been retracted and the website has issued an apology.

“After consultation with my lawyers and seeking their advise, I have decided to file criminal and civil proceedings against The Wire… I will also sue them in a civil court seeking damages as they forged documents with a view to malign and tarnish my reputation,” Malviya wrote on Twitter.

What did The Wire reports claim?

The Wire published a series of articles about the social media company Meta and its content moderation process.

A report published by The Wire claimed that several posts by an Instagram account “Superhumans of Cringetopia” had been taken down on 19 September for violating the platform’s community guidelines. The account mostly published satirical posts, taking digs at the BJP government and right-wing groups.

One of the posts, which showed a man worshipping Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, was taken down for violating Instagram’s guidelines on “sexual activity and nudity”. However, there was no nudity involved.

Meta claimed that the post was flagged by its automated systems and deleted after being reviewed by its community operations team for violating its other standards. But The Wire report questioned Meta’s stand and said that the post was among many others by the same account – all of which were removed soon after being uploaded. The article questioned whether a human intervention was responsible for taking down posts or whether it was the work of algorithms.

How did Amit Malviya get involved?

Not only did the articles question Meta’s quick action against posts that took on the government and Hindutva groups but also claimed that BJP’s Amit Malviya holds special privileges which allow him to get content removed from Instagram.

The platform has an X-Check or Cross-Check programme which gives some users special privileges. Malviya has the power which ensures that reports he flags are removed from the platform immediately, “without any of the company’s moderators looking at it”, according to The Wire.

The post on Adityanath was taken down after an intervention from Malviya and too without a review as the “reporting user has X-Check privileges”, claimed the publication. It also said that the BJP leader had reported 705 posts, all of which had been removed.

What is Meta’s defence?

The Wire also published an email allegedly sent to Meta’s employees in which its communication director Andy Stone asked how the internal report on Instagram posts was leaked.

However, Stone rubbished the article on Meta’s internal report and said it was based on misinformation. He clarified that X-Check had “nothing to do with the ability to report posts”. “Posts in question were surfaced for review by automated systems, not humans,” he insisted.

In a series of tweets, Meta’s Chief Information Officer Guy Rosen said that the stories published by The Wire “are fabrications”.

“The stories are simply incorrect about the cross-check program, which was built to prevent potential over-enforcement mistakes. It has nothing to do with the ability to report posts, as alleged in the article,” he tweeted.

“Our Cross Check system was built to prevent potential over-enforcement mistakes and to double-check cases where a decision could require more understanding or there could be a higher risk for a mistake. To be clear, our Cross Check program does not grant enrolled accounts the power to automatically have content removed from our platform,” Meta said in a blog post titled “What The Wire Reports Got Wrong”.

Does Amit Malviya have access to the Cross-Check programme?

“We don’t share the list of people on the Cross Check program externally,” a Meta spokesperson told Newslaundry. When asked about Meta users in India having the XCheck status, the spokesperson said, “This information is not public.”

In September 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported that the programme protects at least 5.8 million high-profile Facebook and Instagram accounts. Celebrities, politicians and journalists are shielded from Meta’s content takedown procedure that applies to ordinary users.

Why did The Wire retract the articles?

Last week, The Wire decided to conduct an internal review of its recent coverage of Meta, especially the sources and materials involved in reporting. On Sunday, it retracted all the stories published about Meta after “conducting an internal review of the technical source material used, with the help of external experts”.

“Our investigation, which is ongoing, does not as yet allow us to take a conclusive view about the authenticity and bona fides of the sources with whom a member of our reporting team says he has been in touch over an extended period of time. However, certain discrepancies have emerged in the material used,” it published a statement on its website.

“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 news website said.

On Thursday, The Wire issued an apology to its readers and said it was deceived by a member of their Meta investigation team. “The Editorial team takes moral responsibility for the omission and undertakes to ensure that in future all technical evidence will be verified by independent experts before publication,” it said in a statement.

What happens from here on?

While Malviya said that he will drag the publication to court, he also said that he would seek damages from The Wire, alleging that the news website had forged documents to malign and tarnish his reputation.

With inputs from agencies

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Explained: Why BJP’s Amit Malviya is suing ‘The Wire’
Explained: Why BJP’s Amit Malviya is suing ‘The Wire’
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