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The future of local news is “civic information,” not “declining legacy systems,” says new report
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Oct. 19, 2022, 12:38 p.m.
LINK: slate.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   October 19, 2022

Once you recognize that someone’s pulling an elaborate con, the Meta/Wire saga makes a little more sense.

I’ll do my best to sum up the recent controversy in a couple lines: The Wire, a leading independent Indian news site, reported earlier this month that an Indian government official had the power to get Instagram posts he deemed offensive taken down. Quickly, inconsistencies in The Wire’s reporting were revealed. Meta says the documents The Wire relied on may be fake, “contain mischaracterizations of how our enforcement processes work, and rely on what we believe to be fabricated evidence in their reporting…We hope that The Wire is the victim of this hoax, not the perpetrator.” So far, the evidence appears to be on Meta’s side.

“To be clear, informed analysts of the saga did not tend to believe The Wire acted maliciously in order to defame Meta,” Nitish Pahwa writes at Slate. “Rather, they said this was probably the result of an elaborate scheme planned by someone with a vendetta against The Wire. Or, as [former Facebook chief security officer Alex] Stamos put it, ‘an extremely successful op against opposition journalism.'”

The hoax could have “come from a politically motivated party outside The Wire, or from people with unknown motivations inside it,” Casey Newton and Zoë Schiffer wrote in their helpful Monday post at Platformer, “Inside the messy fight between Meta and The Wire.” They sum up why the story is so bewildering both to report on and read about:

One reason this story has been so confusing to report is that its details seemingly cannot be reconciled without embracing a conspiracy theory: that multiple people conspired to hoax The Wire; that one or more persons within The Wire committed the hoax themselves; or that multiple people within Meta conspired to falsely accuse a publication of fabricating documents.

On Tuesday, The Wire said it is “undertaking an internal review of the materials at our disposal. This will include a review of all documents, source material and sources used for our stories on Meta.” Platformer also interviewed Wire founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan.

In Semafor’s inaugural daily newsletter on Tuesday, Indian journalist Barkha Dutt wrote:

Much like elsewhere, journalism in India is under threat, both from within and without. In this new age of polarization and populism, that means the old rules of journalism — attribution, right of response, engagement with varied voices — matter more than ever before.

Pahwa at Slate again:

Every publication makes mistakes, some far more serious than others. But the Wire-Meta saga appears to display sheer irresponsibility on the former’s part — both in reporting the original story and in doubling down on it. It’s embarrassing to admit you’ve perhaps been taken for a ride; if this were a sting, it could be evidence savvy Indian right-wingers are adopting tactics not unlike those employed by some American conservatives, who’ve attempted to hoodwink major newspapers so as to decimate their credibility. (In this case, Indian tricksters would have pulled off what a site like the Gateway Pundit could not.) What’s more, Meta and its spokespeople tell so, so many lies about their work, and they’ve done such awful damage to India in particular, that it’s crushing to see the Wire forced into ceding the high ground here.

The pressure is high in the subcontinent, and the Wire’s most intrepid writers doubtlessly face daily threats of the kind few American journalists are familiar with. Yet that also makes their rectitude all the more imperative.

On Wednesday, ShareChat, an Indian social media company that came under The Wire’s scrutiny earlier this year, asked The Wire to remove that coverage as well: “The claims made against us were published without seeking our comment, quoted an expert who we understand has sought to distance himself from The Wire in the latest story and alleged collusion without a shred of evidence.”

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