The Editors Guild of India on Friday withdrew references it had made in its earlier statement to articles carried by news website The Wire that alleged the existence of an application named Tek Fog.
In a three-part report about Tek Fog published in January, The Wire alleged that the Bhartiya Janata Party’s social media cell used the purported application to automate the retweeting of posts on Twitter, store a database of private citizens for targeted harassment and hijack inactive WhatsApp accounts.
On October 23, The Wire retracted the articles about Tek Fog along with its stories about social media company Meta. The organisation came under scrutiny after it claimed that Instagram, which is owned by Meta, took down any posts that head of the BJP’s social media cell Amit Malviya had flagged without review.
On January 11, the Editors Guild statement, citing The Wire reports about Tek Fog, urged the Supreme Court to order an investigation into the alleged use of the app to harass women journalists.
“What is further disturbing is that most of these attacks are targeted at journalists, who have been outspokenly critical of the current government and the ruling party, to silence them under the intimidation of such attacks,” the association said. “This is a travesty of all democratic norms, and in violation of law.”
On Friday, the Editors Guild said that since there were “serious questions on the veracity of their reporting”, it has withdrawn all its references to the app.
It also stated that it was disturbed by The Wire retracting articles about Tek Fog and Meta. “The Guild is conscious and emphasises the need for extra care in investigative journalism, and urges newsrooms to resist the temptation of moving fast on sensitive stories, circumventing due journalistic norms and checks,” it said.
The development came a day after the news website said that it had been deceived by a member of its its reporting team on Meta. The organisation apologised to its readers and said the articles did not meet its standards.
‘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. The post was allegedly removed 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 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 the 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 The Wire editor Siddharth Varadarajan and 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 experts later denied having been part of the process.
On October 27, Malviya said that he will file civil and criminal cases against The Wire, alleging that the news website had forged documents to malign and tarnish his reputation.