Meta mad as hell over allegations it let Indian politicians block content
Local outlet claims to have insider docs that prove takedown powers. Meta says they're fake. And around and around they go
Meta's complex relationship with India's citizens and government is again in the spotlight after allegations it rolled out the red carpet for government censors.
The allegations appeared in Indian outlet The Wire last week, in reporting that asserted that posts reported by Amit Malviya, president of the IT team at India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was given access to the XCheck program that allows high-profile users to circumvent normal content rules.
XCheck is also thought to confer privileges, including removing posts on Meta's social networks.
"The company has given Malviya two levels of privileges – he can post as he likes, without the rules governing the platform applying to him, and he can impose his will as he pleases to have posts critical of the BJP, the Union government, or right-wing Hindu politics, deleted," The Wire reported, along with an allegation that Meta took down 705 Instagram posts reported by Malviya in September alone.
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An internal Instagram report accessed by The Wire was cited as evidence of Malviya's privileged status.
Meta comms officer Andy Stone responded to the allegations as follows:
No - so many issues with this. X-check has nothing to do with the ability to report posts. The posts in question were surfaced for review by automated systems, not humans. And the underlying documentation appears to be fabricated.— Andy Stone (@andymstone) October 11, 2022
The Wire rejected Stone's assertion, and added an allegation that the Meta man sent emotionally charged internal emails demanding to know the source of the leak and that the editor and reporter who broke the story be added to Meta's "watchlist."
Meta CISO Guy Rosen weighed in that the claims were untrue, that the report referenced in The Wire's story was a fabrication, the URL on the report is not in use, and its naming convention does not correlate with internal policies. Furthermore, Rosen claimed the email from Andy Stone was fake and that no "watchlist" of journalists exists.
In its October 11 story, @thewire_in cites a supposed email from @andymstone. It is a fake. The supposed email address from which it was sent isn’t even Stone’s current email address, and the "to" address isn't one we use here either. There is no such email. (4/6)— Guy Rosen (@guyro) October 11, 2022
On October 12, Meta took to its website to echo Rosen's sentiments.
The Wire then doubled down on its allegations, claiming, among other things:
- Stone's fb.com email address was indeed in use, and not spoofed by some outside actor and was even verified using an industry standard Python-based open source tool;
- The URL on the Instagram report was in use and instagram.workplace.com is an internal subdomain that is accessible to a select group of staff members;
- The definition and purpose of XCheck is muddled within the Meta organization and the company's board feels the team responsible for the program has "not been fully forthcoming."
"Rosen chose his words carefully – seeking to cast doubt on the veracity of the email but stopping short of categorically saying Stone's fb.com email address does not exist or is not in use anymore," reported The Wire before referencing other journalists who had communicated with Stone via the email address.
I have no idea what's going on here/don't have any stance on the underlying story at this point but I will say Andy emailed me from an @fb.com account on 8/31/22— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) October 11, 2022
And regarding the Instagram report, Wire reported:
At The Wire's request, one of its sources made and shared a recording of them navigating the portal and showing other case files uploaded there to demonstrate the existence and ongoing use of the URL. (The Wire asked the source not to open the original @cringearchivist post-incident report at the heart of the current controversy, or any other file – in case Meta was monitoring activity on the subdomain.)
In response, Meta on Sunday updated its post with more claims the sources of the story are fabricated.
"At this time, we can confirm that the video shared by The Wire that purports to show an internal Instagram system (and which The Wire claims is evidence that their false allegations are true) in fact depicts an externally-created Meta Workplace account that was deliberately set up with Instagram's name and brand insignia in order to deceive people," claimed Meta in a website update.
The company formerly known as Facebook also stated that the account – which was opened on October 13 as a free trial – has since been locked due to violations of policies.
"Based on the timing of this account's creation on October 13, it appears to have been set up specifically in order to manufacture evidence to support The Wire's inaccurate reporting," said Meta.
Separate from the two organizations at the core of the dispute, others have noted what feels] like flaws in The Wire's story. For instance, the original account @CringeArchivist that kicked off the whole controversy – with an allegedly nudey picture that obviously did not contain nudity – was not followed by Malviya in the first place. There is also apparently a disruption in cursor displacement in The Wire's video of an employee logging into instagram.workplace.com.
Organizations like the Internet Freedom Foundation, meanwhile, have urged bigger picture thinking, regardless of how the story unfolds.
#EveningReads— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom) October 12, 2022
As the @thewire_in-@Meta story unfolds, we focus on imp policy & regulatory aspects that need attention.
1. Non-transparent content takedown by platforms.
2. Questionable grounds for removing @\cringearchivist’s post.
👉Meta needs to set the record straight. 1/10
This rolling brawl is notable because content regulation and privacy are hot topics in India. The government has often been criticized for overreach and and harming free speech when regulating content, or at the very least an active interest in using regulations. Big tech also wears plenty of anger in India for doing too little to catch nasty posts, or protesting local content regulations.
In one notorious incident, Indian police visited Twitter HQ in an apparent probe of the micro-blog's decision to mark a minister's Tweets as containing faked images – in this case an alleged document detailing an opposition party's dirty tricks campaign.
The allegations against Meta also echo those raised by Twitter whistleblower Peiter "Mudge" Zatko that India's government demanded – and received – access to personal data.
There's no end in sight to the allegations and denials between Meta and The Wire. Nor to India's love/hate relationship with big tech. ®