Researcher Devesh Kumar “fabricated and supplied documents, emails and other material such as videos with a view to damaging The Wire and its reputation”, the digital publication alleged in a complaint emailed to the Special Commissioner of Police, Crime, New Delhi, on October 29, a copy of which has been accessed by Scroll.in. “He has done so either on his own or at the behest of other unknown persons.”
The complaint relates to a series of articles about social media company Meta that The Wire retracted on October 23. The Wire had claimed that the chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s social media cell, Amit Malviya, had special privileges through an Instagram programme called X-Check that ensured that any posts he reports are removed from the platform immediately, with “no questions asked”. Meta is the parent firm of Instagram.
When it retracted the articles, the publication said it would review its reporting and editorial processes. Without naming Kumar, The Wire had previously said that it had been deceived by a member of its investigative team. On October 27, the news website issued a public apology.
On Saturday, the Delhi Police, after a complaint from Malviya, registered a first information report against The Wire for cheating, forgery, defamation and criminal conspiracy. The FIR named The Wire editors Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and MK Venu as well as deputy editor Jahnavi Sen.
The Wire, in its own complaint, said that Kumar had contacted the website after it published an article on October 6 about the abrupt takedown of an Instagram video posted by a page called the “Archive of Cringetopia”. He had previous worked with The Wire as a consultant from April 2021 to July 2022.
Kumar, “who had nothing to do with that story, got in touch with our reporter and told us that he had received information from a personal friend of his who is a senior executive at Instagram’s office in Singapore”, the complaint alleges.
The complaint alleges that Kumar forwarded to The Wire’s deputy editor Jahnavi Sen an email he claimed to have received from this executive. He also sent a “‘Post Incident Review Report’ through a messaging app with the username ‘Antadweep’ to Jahnavi Sen...both of which stated that the take down was on the basis of a complaint by Amit Malviya”, the complaint alleges.
“The email had all the trappings of an electronic mail and there was no basis at that time to suspect it was fraudulent, nor indeed the Post Incident Review Report which the email had alluded to,” the complaint alleges. “Believing the said email and the ‘Post Incident Review Report’ document Devesh Kumar sent us to be correct, The Wire published a story based on this material on October 10.”
The Wire complaint says that it published a second story on October 11. It was “based on an email Devesh Kumar said he had received from a source in Meta. This source, he said, had forwarded an email from Andy Stone, Head of Communications at Meta, which he had confirmed from the headers to be authentic,” the complaint alleges.
Subsequent articles on October 15 and 17 “were also all based on electronic documentation including emails and videos provided by Devesh Kumar, purportedly from Instagram and Meta, the parent company of Instagram, and two independent experts”, the complaint alleges.
But when these experts wrote to Varadarajan “denying any role in the exercise Devesh Kumar had engaged in to purportedly verify Andy Stone’s email”, the publication launched a review of the series with independent IT experts, the complaint says.
“Our review – done with the help of reputed outside experts – of the documents and material Devesh Kumar had provided clearly established that he had supplied us fabricated material – including the documents and emails and videos from Instagram and Meta, as well as the emails by two reputed experts purportedly vetting the Andy Stone email,” the complaint alleges.
The complaint adds, “In the circumstances, we request you to investigate this matter urgently and take action as per law. Please also investigate whether other persons have colluded with Devesh Kumar and add them to the array of witnesses in that case.”
The BJP’s Malviya, in his police complaint, said that it was “apparent the accused along with other unknown persons have levelled unsubstantiated and baseless allegations against me and the BJP. 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.”
Malviya added 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.