News website The Wire on Thursday issued an apology for its now-retracted articles about social media company Meta and claimed that it had been deceived by a member of its investigative team.

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 company of Instagram and Facebook.

The Wire said that its review of the internal processes that led to the publication of the articles is still underway. However, it said that a “clear editorial learning” for the organisation was that all verification processes that involve technical skill must be cross-checked by independent and reputed experts.

“Had we done this before publication rather than after the fact, this would have ensured that the deception to which we were subjected by a member of our Meta investigation team was spotted in time,” it said.

The Wire said the internal editorial processes that were carried out before the articles were published did not meet the standards that the organisation set for itself. “To have rushed to publish a story we believed was reliable without having the associated technical evidence vetted independently is a failure of which we cannot permit repetition,” it said.

The news website added that another learning for it was that the editing process for investigative reportage should involve multiple layers of editors, and said that it was putting in place protocols for this.

“This combination of not fully grasping the complexities of technology and a slippage in editorial assessment of tech-related matter resulted in the publication of stories which did not eventually hold up,” it said. “For this we owe an apology to our readers.”

On October 23, The Wire retracted the articles about Meta and said that it would review its reportage on the matter.

The news website added that it would 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.

Subsequently, it removed from public view 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 by the BJP.

Screenshot: The Wire

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‘The Wire’ vs Meta row

The controversy started after on October 6, The Wire said 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.

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 had asked his colleagues to put Varadarajan and The Wire journalist Jahnavi Sen 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.

The news website had also published an explanation of the technical process that it had followed while writing the articles, which cited redacted emails from two cybersecurity experts. However, both the experts later denied having been part of the process.