News website The Wire on Tuesday announced that it is undertaking an internal review of all its documents related to Meta amid a dispute with the social media company. The dispute had started with an article claiming Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Malviya had special privileges on Instagram when it came to having posts removed.

In a statement, The Wire said it will withhold the articles about Meta, which owns Instagram, and will conduct an internal review of all the information and material provided by its sources.

“Based on our findings, we will determine a future course of action and inform our readers as well, and promise to act – as always – in their best interests,” the news website said.

The statement said they would explore if it could share the original documents used in the reporting amid doubts raised by experts about some of the material.

“We sought to check the integrity and authenticity of the new source material as best we could, and then proceeded to draft each report, being careful to strike a balance between showing our readers what this material contained but not enough to reveal the sources’ identities,” it added.

However, The Wire acknowledged that two experts have denied making any assessment of its verification process as it had claimed in one of the articles about Meta.

The Wire said that while its coverage about Meta started with an incident that showed lack of transparency on part of the social media firm, the organisation has “an even greater responsibility” to be open.

“And we intend to discharge that responsibility with full seriousness,” the statement added.

The controversy

On October 6, The Wire said that that Instagram had deleted a satirical post showing a man worshipping a statue of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath for violating the platform’s guidelines on “nudity and sexual content” even though the image did not depict any nudity.

The publication followed up with a report on October 10 claiming that the post was taken down on a complaint from Malviya, the head of the BJP’s social media cell. The Wire report claimed that Malviya has special privileges through an Instagram programme called X-Check that ensures that any posts he reports are removed from the platform immediately, with “no questions asked”, even if they do not violate Meta’s rules.

The Wall Street Journal had reported in September 2021 that X-Check protects at least 5.8 million “high-profile [Facebook and Instagram] accounts” such as “celebrities, politicians and journalists” from the Meta content takedown procedure that apply to ordinary users.

On October 11, Andy Stone, Meta’s communications director, said that The Wire’s report was based on false information. He said that X-Check system had “nothing to do with the ability to report posts”.

He also said that “posts in question were surfaced for review by automated systems, not humans” and that an internal report of Instagram cited by The Wire’s source “appears to be fabricated”.

Defending its report, The Wire published another article on October 11, with an image of an email allegedly sent by Stone on October 11 in which he rebuked some of his colleagues, asking them how the internal Instagram report “got leaked” and seeking more information on the matter.

The report also claimed that Stone asked his colleagues to put The Wire journalist Jahnavi Sen and editor Siddharth Varadarajan on a “watchlist”.

Meta’s Chief Information Security Officer Guy Rosen claimed that the email, too, was fake.

After this, The Wire on October 15 said it had verified Stone’s email and produced more technical evidence to support its claims. But this was met with scepticism from some technical experts.

Meta also claimed that a Wire video claiming to show an internal Instagram site with revealing information actually depicted a trial site that had been created by an outside entity on October 13 after the publication’s initial reports on the social media company.

“The account was set up externally as a free trial account on Meta’s enterprise Workplace product under the name ‘Instagram’ and using the Instagram brand as its profile picture,” it said in a statement. “It is not an internal appears to have been set up specifically in order to manufacture evidence to support The Wire’s inaccurate reporting.”