A big confusing game of internet telephone
Read to the end for a really damning callout post
Everything We Know So Far About The Wire’s Meta Story
There’s been some really strange developments with this story over the weekend and I hadn’t seen anyone do a good full rundown of what’s happened here, so I thought I’d take a crack at it.
Last Monday, The Wire, a nonprofit Indian news outlet, published a story alleging that Amit Malviya, the national head of India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been in power since 2014, was able to personally request that Instagram posts were pulled off the platform. Malviya is considered the head of the BJP’s various cyber armies, which are commonly referred to as IT cells.
BJP IT cells don’t tend to be as sophisticated as, say, Russia’s Internet Research Agency (which isn’t super sophisticated itself), but make up for it with their numbers, swarming anyone critical of the government and overloading them with coordinated posts. Which can be especially overwhelming in a country like India, where virality can easily turn into mob violence. But to give you an idea of how an IT cell works, a few years ago, Pratik Sinha, a local misinformation researcher, got into the Google Doc that a BJP IT cell was using to coordinate tweets and edited it to be critical of current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The trolls didn’t notice and tweeted it out anyways. lol whoops!
The Wire story alleged that Malviya, on behalf of the BJP, was able to access a feature called “Cross Check,” or “XCheck,” which gives special high-profile users a different set of moderation policies. It’s real and was not disclosed to the public until it was revealed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
Meta’s head of communications Andy Stone denied The Wire’s first report. And then The Wire published a second story, claiming they had gotten ahold of Stone’s emails. In the emails published The Wire, he allegedly demanded to know why The Wire wasn’t on some kind of Meta watchlist for journalists.
Stone then denied the emails, as well as the existence of a watchlist. And American tech journalists, as well as former Facebook employees, also came out against the story, arguing that most of it didn’t make any sense. Also, the emails from Stone aren’t really written in natural American English and they feature listservs that either don’t exist or are no longer used.
Then, two days later, Meta came out more forcefully against The Wire, publishing a blog post titled, “What The Wire Reports Got Wrong,” in which they wrote, “The allegations made by The Wire are false. They contain mischaracterizations of how our enforcement processes work, and rely on what we believe to be fabricated evidence in their reporting.”
Over the weekend, however, The Wire published a third story, which included a video that they claimed showed their source accessing Instagram’s backend on Meta’s Workplace platform. And, once again, Meta released a statement explaining why it wasn’t true. Meta was able to figure out that the Instagram Workplace insistence shown in The Wire’s video was a spoofed trial account that anyone could have set up and had only existed since October 13th, which was two days after The Wire published their first article.
And, finally, today, The Wire released a statement admitting they were giving up the fight. They say they still stand by their stories and their sources, but don’t intend to keep arguing with Meta in public about this. Which isn’t a great place to leave this, but whatever. Whether they want to admit it or not, it seems pretty clear that The Wire got it wrong. Which is a shame. As one local journalist told me this week, “It has been so sad and confusing to watch. Their credibility is like a precious national resource.” And, based on the very coordinated tweets from BJP IT cells begging Meta to sue The Wire, I can’t help but wonder if the whole thing was a set up from the start. But there’s also a lot of weirdness about The Wire’s email screenshots, including bizarre changing timestamps.
But here’s the thing. The reason this story has resonated the way it has is because it does contain some shades of truth. Meta has a weirdly aggressive PR team, so much so that Input Mag wrote a story basically asking what their whole deal was. And Facebook does lie. I mean, they literally lied about metaverse legs last week! And, most importantly, journalists in the Global South, where Meta’s products have much more impact, have far less access than American journalists do. Also, wait — you mean to tell me that Meta isn’t happy that a highly-polarized digital media landscape that incentivizes content production above all else has produced a conspiracy theory accusing them of something they never did? Wow, and it went viral? Even though they debunked it? That’s crazy. We should figure out if there are any large companies that profit from this sort of thing.
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Twitch Streamer Amouranth Accused Her Husband Of Abuse
Over the weekend, Kaitlyn Siragusa, a Twitch streamer better known as Amouranth revealed on stream that she was married and then alleged that her husband was forcing her to stream and emotionally and financially abusing her. The videos, which were clipped for Twitter by the user @HUN2R, are hard to watch and feature Siragusa’s husband berating her over the phone. Siragusa also alleged that her husband has kept her on a grueling schedule, forcing her to stream and create content for OnlyFans as much as 20 hours a day.
Siragusa’s livestreams have caused numerous controversies over the years. She was the face of what was called the “hot tub meta,” which was a trend on the site where women streamers would go live in hot tubs and kiddie pools. The site’s male fanbase would harass these women (while still watching their videos) and many of the women received bans or suspensions for doing it. Twitch eventually had to release a statement about it. At this point, Siragusa has been banned by Twitch at least five times for violating their community standards. And the fact that all of this was allegedly part of a financial abuse scheme puts a lot of things in a new light.
I wrote on Friday about Twitch’s weird growing disregard for their creators, after Adriana Chechik, a Twitch streamer and former adult performer, broke her back in two places participating in an unsafe foam pit at TwitchCon. The platform, which is owned by Amazon, has recently cut back on the amount of money they pay out to their top creators. Also, very little of what it offers is exclusive to Twitch these days. In fact, even Discord, the chat app used by the majority of Twitch streamers for maintaining their audiences, has begun to roll out features effectively replacing Twitch. And my hunch is that if Twitch doesn’t start really seriously investing in their creators, the site will go the way of Tumblr — an increasingly niche platform that has lost its professional-level creators to competing platforms.
But Siragusa’s allegations of Twitch-related abuse but an even darker spin on the creator reckoning that seems destined for the platform’s near-future. For instance, the biggest question I have is would this kind of abuse have even been possible if the site wasn’t so specifically focused on pushing creators to stream longer and more often and putting financials tools in place to incentivize that?
Rich Guys Just Wanna Be Mods
This morning, it was announced that Kanye West plans to buy Parler. If you can’t keep track of your right-wing social networks, Parler was the one that was primarily used to organize and liveblog the insurrection. It’s also owned by George Farmer, who is right-wing commentator Candace Owens’ British hedge funder husband. And West and Owns have been seen together a lot recently.
Now, like with Elon Musk, I’ll believe West is buying a social media platform when he actually owns it. Unlike Elon Musk, I think West is in the middle of a pretty upsetting mental health crisis and I am, frankly, not surprised that a bunch of right-wing grifters wanted to use that as an opportunity to offload their failing social network.
That said, what men like West, Musk, and Trump are quickly experimenting with in public right now is the idea of buying up social networks. Unlike the also-rich guys who currently own them, the new wave of capitalists expressing interest in owning online platforms are interested in it specifically because they don’t want to be moderated on mainstream sites. They believe that their money entitles them to specific privileges and when they feel those privileges have been denied, they throw a tantrum and announce they’re launching their own free speech network. It seems like the privilege they most often believe they should have is to be loudly racist in public.
My opinion on sites like Parler has evolved slightly over the last few years, but is relatively the same as it’s been since Trump went to TruthSocial, which it should be noted was admitted to the Google Play Store this week. Rich guys — and their weird stan armies — don’t understand what makes a social network interesting, which is all the other people. None of these sites will ever replace what these guys were so addicted to about mainstream platforms. But, you know what, if all the Trump supporters want to give the FBI one easy place to monitor, I say, go for it!
Anyways, we know exactly what all of these rich guy apps will end up like, which is basically the Jeremy Renner app, but with, I assume, more hate speech.
A Good Tweet
New Terrifying A.I. Tool Dropped
I'll admit, I’ve definitely reached a point with A.I. tools where I’m now having to actively suppress my anxiety about what this stuff can do. The tool above is called Erase and Replace and it lets you edit a photo by typing in what you want the A.I. to do to the photo.
I suppose the biggest source of anxiety I have about this kind of thing is not actually about deepfakes or misinfo or whatever — though I assume those’ll get even worse. I recently saw an ad for the Google Pixel 6’s magic eraser tool. Which works in a similar fashion to Runway’s A.I. tool. And the example they used in the ad was a photo of a kid at the beach. People in the background were erased to make the photo “better”. I just find the whole thing very uncomfortable and more than a little sad. It’s hard not to wonder about what will happen to our understanding of the past when the A.I.’s suddenly free us from all our ugly photographs.
The Liz Truss Lettuce Has A Wig And Googly Eyes Now
Truss still appears to be prime minister of the UK. But that really could change at any moment.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a really damning callout post.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***