The Delhi Police on Saturday filed an first information report against The Wire for cheating, forgery defamation and criminal conspiracy after the news website published articles claiming social media website Instagram took down posts that Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Malviya had flagged without review, ANI reported.
The Wire editors Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and MK Venu as well as deputy editor Jahnavi Sen have been named in the FIR.
Malviya, who is the BJP social media cell chief, in a complaint also sought action against the Foundation for Independent Journalism, a non-profit organisation that publishes The Wire.
“It is apparent the accused along with other unknown persons have levelled unsubstantiated and baseless allegations against me and the BJP,” he told the special commissioner of Delhi Police (Crime). “As a part of the conspiracy, the accused also fabricated and forged internal emails of a private limited company with a dishonest and fraudulent intention to hoodwink their readers and the public at large.”
In the complaint, Malviya also told the police that he did not have access to the Instagram account whose posts The Wire had claimed were censored because of him.
“Therefore, it is not within the complainant’s domain to report such account as I am not privy
to any posts or content made by the account,” he wrote. “Further, it is pertinent to note
that none of the accused cross-checked whether I followed the said private account on Instagram so as to access the post in the first place.”
The BJP leader claimed that the editors of the news organisation were determined to run a campaign that was built on “surmises and weak suppositions”, which they justified through baseless documents.
“I state that the above forged reports of the accused person[s] have caused serious harm to my professional career and reputation,” he added. “Further at the same time the false, fabricated and malicious reports have also tarnished the image of the BJP in the eyes of the public at large. The BJP, currently having a majority in Parliament and many states of the country, has suffered a huge reputational loss.”
Malviya also alleged that donations that the news website gets from readers are used to manufacture false and misleading articles.
“It is shocking to note that even despite being globally criticised for its misleading reporting, on 11.10.2022, Siddharth Varadarajan took to Twitter to continue to appeal readers to make donations towards The Wire’s dishonest journalism, and even boasted of the amounts that had been collected,” he wrote.
Malviya’s action came after Meta, the parent company of Instagram, and The Wire engaged in a public feud over the articles and subsequent reporting from the organisation in support of its claims.
On October 23, The Wire had retracted the articles and started a review of its reporting and editorial processes. Four days later, the news website issued a public apology and said that it had been deceived by a member of its investigative team.
Hours after the apology, Malviya had said that he would initiate civil and criminal cases against the portal. In his statement, Malviya had added that The Wire did not apologise to him even after retracting its articles.
The Wire had responded to Malviya’s statement about taking legal action, saying that a publication could be misinformed on certain occasions.
The news organisation had stressed that it spoke the truth after realising that it had been given fraudulent information by its source. It added that whether the source who gave the material for the article acted on his own or someone else’s behest will be subjected to the judicial process.
‘The Wire’ vs Meta controversy
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 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 head of the BJP’s social media cell. 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 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 Varadarajan and 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 the experts later denied having been part of the process.