News website The Wire on Sunday retracted a series of articles about social media company Meta, and said that it is continuing to review its reportage on the matter.

In the articles, The Wire had claimed that the chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Information Technology cell Amit Malviya holds special privileges that enable him to get posts removed from social media website Instagram. Meta is the parent firm of Instagram.

Last week, the news website had announced that it was undertaking an internal review of all its articles related to Meta amid a dispute with the social media company. The Wire had said it would explore if it could share the original documents used in the reporting amid doubts raised by experts about some of the material.

“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,” the news website said on Sunday. “However, certain discrepancies have emerged in the material used.”

The Wire said that it is reviewing the matter, including “the possibility that it was deliberately sought to misinform or deceive” the news 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.

The news website added that it will carry out a thorough review of its previous reporting done by “the technical team involved in our Meta coverage”, and remove the stories from public view till that process is complete.

The website appears to have been referring to three reports published in January that alleged the existence of an application named Tek Fog, which was purportedly used to automate the retweeting of posts on Twitter, store a database of private citizens for targeted harassment and hijack inactive WhatsApp accounts. The app was allegedly used the BJP.

Researcher Devesh Kumar was among the authors of the articles about Tek Fog as well as those about Meta.

Following the controversy with Meta, social media platform ShareChat had asked The Wire to take down an article published in January that linked it to Tek Fog.

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 this up with a report on October 10 claiming that the post was taken down after a complaint by 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 applies to at least 5.8 million “high-profile [Facebook and Instagram] accounts” such as “celebrities, politicians and journalists”. However, rather than enable users to remove posts, according to The Wire’s report, this article said it protected X-Check accounts 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 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.”