Bad responses to The Wire’s Meta reports

Note, October 19, 2022, 6:25 am: Quite a few people have checked in asking if I will update this post in the light of The Wire updating its position on its investigation into censorship by Meta. I don’t intend to change this post, other than adding this note, because the 10 points still stand irrespective of what The Wire‘s internal review finds. To reiterate what I imply below, bad-faith is as bad-faith does.

Ten types of bad-faith responses to The Wire‘s stories – this and this – on Meta, Andy Stone and Amit Malviya, plus one that we expect to face in a day or two:

1. “The Wire is afraid to give the source’s name.”

I don’t expect the trolls, goblins, orcs, etc. of the internet to know this but protecting whistleblowers is a matter of integrity and, under inordinate pressure, even pride for a journalist.

There is only one way this is going to play out: without any of the “tough man at the helm” toxic rubbish.

2. “So source’s point is ‘trust me, bro’.”

Yeah, bro. That’s how it works, bro, although you’d have to be actively ignorant to overlook the other documentary evidence.

3. “The Wire has lied all its life, so it will double down on its claim to avoid losing its purpose.”

A falsifiable contention, then again an unfalsifiable contention to minds devoted to avoiding simple facts (see #2), ergo a waste of time.

4. “You have no credibility.”

Thanks for reading us and
Replying to our tweet,
Getting it out there for
More people to read.

5. “The Wire has a bad track record.”

See #3. Also you and I disagree so deeply on the qualitative merits of track records that we’re aliens to each other – probably varelse – so no point talking.

6. “You see what you want to see” is both accusation and defence.

After The Wire‘s first report and after Andy Stone’s response, we were accused of seeing only what we wanted to see. But when the reports doubled down, our detractors (principally hardcore BJP supporters on Twitter) started to see only what they wish to see: their arguments devolved into “The Wire must be lying, it just must.”

7. “Facebook/Meta has denied it, this is credible.”

All the arguments so far were levelled by the usual suspects and in that regard were, shall we say, par for the course. But when other journalists from establishments that we usually believe hire sensible people signalled their willingness to buy Meta’s/Facebook’s/Stone’s shallow denial – “M/F/S usually don’t do this but now that they have, it must be true” – it was just gut-wrenching.

It indicated one or some of the following to be likely: a) they were cowed by Meta/Facebook, by the deluge of comments on Twitter or by both to agree with Stone’s denial;  b) how Meta is behaving now, responding now, etc. is new – but even then to claim Stone’s response on Twitter to be “clean” or “credible” is a bridge too far; …

8. Just ignorance

c) they weren’t aware of the lack-of-integrity with which Facebook operates in India; or d) they weren’t aware of their ignorance.

Don’t underestimate ignorance. The American commentariat – including journalists, policy wonks, spokespersons, etc. – has expected non-Western journalists before to go to greater lengths than journalists from their own part of the world to prove something to them because you’re not one of them – ignorant of the fact that you’re in fact working in a worse part of the world, where neither the government nor the corporation will skip a chance tear you down, which in turn gives you less latitude to ‘show’ your work in every way they’d like before conferring you with the privilege of their agreement, even as they continue sealioning and gaslighting you.

9. “Stone’s email address can’t be *”

If you wish to hitch your wagon to the “Stone couldn’t possibly have replied from a * address, so the email whose screenshot The Wire has is fabricated” argument, that’s your prerogative. But you immediately give me the right to step over you at the first appearance of an email from a Meta employee sporting a * address. Et voilà.

10. [Ignore the posts that were taken down]

In all this hullabaloo, people have forgotten that Instagram took down @cringearchivist’s evidently harmless posts for no discernible reason. Who’s to say the hullabaloo wasn’t manufactured to achieve mass-forgetting?

Please don’t forget to ask Instagram/Meta why it took down @cringearchivist’s posts for “nudity” when there was no nudity, and why manual reviews – as Meta has claimed – didn’t result in their restoration.

Update, October 19, 2022, 6:35 am: Instagram/Meta quietly reinstated the posts by 4:16 pm yesterday. Why did they go down? And how come they’re back up?

Preemptive: “Headers or it didn’t happen.”

The Wire‘s upcoming third report should clarify the point about email headers, but the (potential) problem here is larger: the audience isn’t entitled to all the evidence when any part of it may compromise the whistleblower’s identity, and particularly when some of those making the demands are just fuelled by bloodlust (see #1).

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and never will be. Those who expect otherwise are kidding themselves, and probably willfully disregarding what they understand to be true.

Update, 6:43 am, October 15, 2022: There’s more happening here than I have cared to admit. After exchanges with a technical expert as well as with my colleagues, I’ve come to the conclusion that there some gaps in my knowledge that complicate blanket statements like the one above. Instead, I will defer on this count to the third Meta report by The Wire, which I have seen and which will be published today. 5.55 pm: published.

About Me

I’m a science editor and writer in India, interested in high-energy and condensed-matter physics, research misconduct, pseudoscience, science’s relationship with society, epic fantasy, open source/access/knowledge systems, H.R. Giger’s art, Goundamani’s comedy, Factorio, and most things that require a lot of time to get the hang of.