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After Amit Malviya’s FIR, The Wire files police complaint against own former employee for ‘forgery, fabrication’

BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya had Saturday lodged an FIR against The Wire's founder and editors for forgery, cheating and defamation, in connection with the now retracted stories

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New Delhi: Online news portal The Wire has lodged a complaint with the Delhi Police against its former employee, researcher Devesh Kumar who worked on their stories about Meta, the social media giant that owns Facebook and Instagram. The complaint was sent via mail to the Special Commissioner of Police (Crime) Saturday against Kumar alleging fabrication and forgery in the portal’s recent Meta stories.

Special Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ravindra Singh Yadav confirmed to ThePrint that they have received a complaint. An FIR is yet to be lodged in the matter. “We are looking into the matter,” Yadav said.

Speaking to ThePrint Sunday, The Wire founder Siddharth Varadarajan said: “We are yet to get a receipt of the complaint from the Delhi Police. The complaint was filed via mail against Devesh Kumar for fabrication and forgery”.

On Saturday, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) IT cell head Amit Malviya lodged an FIR against the news portal, its founder, and editors — Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, M.K. Venu, and Jahnavi Sen — in connection to their stories, which the news portal retracted on October 23 following backlash. The retracted stories mentioned how Malviya had special privileges at Meta.

The FIR against The Wire journalists has been filed under Indian Penal Code sections — 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery with the purpose of cheating), 469 (forgery for harming reputation), 471 (using forged document), 500 (defamation), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention).

ThePrint tried reaching out to Kumar through calls and messages but his number was switched off.  This story will be updated if and when he responds.

Also Read: Not just Modi govt’s tug-of-war with social media, balance of power shifting from users anyway

‘Fabrication with a view to damage reputation’ 

Varadarajan’s complaint — which ThePrint has accessed — accuses Kumar of fabricating and supplying documents, emails, and video with a “view to damage” TheWire’s reputation. 

Kumar was employed on a month-to-month remuneration basis from April 2021 to July 2022 as a consultant, the complaint says.

“On 6 October 2022, The Wire published a story about an abrupt takedown of a post on Instagram based on an email we received from the concerned account holder, which is a matter of record. Thereafter, Devesh 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 named Philip Chua,” the complaint says.

It further reads: “He forwarded an email he claimed to have received from Philip Chua of Instagram and, subsequently, a ‘Post Incident Review Report’ through a messaging app with the username ‘Antadweep’ to Jahnavi Sen (‘Jeeva’), both of which stated that the takedown was on the basis of a complaint by Amit Malviya”.

This email, the complaint says, had all the “trappings of an electronic mail”. 

“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. 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 10 October,” the complaint reads. 

According to the complaint, another report was published on 11 October based on an email Kumar claimed he received from a Meta source. Kumar claimed that the mail was from Andy Stone, head of communications at Meta. 

“He said he had received the email on his Protonmail account and shared this with Jahnavi Sen on a messaging app as an attachment, though he subsequently deleted the attachment from there. However, he did subsequently share this email with Siddharth Varadarajan over Signal chat. Two further stories on 15 and 17 October were also all based on electronic documentation including emails and videos provided by Devesh Kumar, purportedly from Instagram and Meta and two independent experts,” the complaint reads. 

TheWire then launched a review of the reports after the two experts reached out to Varadarajan denying their role in verifying Stone’s email, the complaint said. 

“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 adds. 

The complaint says that while Kumar didn’t respond to an email sent in this regard, he called The Wire’s Product and Business Head Mithun Kidambi Thursday evening “to confess to fabricating all the material that was used in The Wire’s stories on Instagram and Meta referred to above. The impression Kidambi gathered was that Devesh Kumar seemed highly disturbed mentally”. 

‘Criminal conspiracy to malign me’

“It is clear that The Wire and some unknown persons entered into a criminal conspiracy with intent to malign and tarnish my reputation, deliberately inserted my name into a story, and fabricated evidence to implicate me. I am left with no option other than to seek legal remedies,” Malviya said in a statement Friday.

Earlier this month, The Wire, in their reports, had claimed that Meta had granted Malviya through its XCheck programme to take down over 700 social media posts that he deemed were critical of the BJP. The stories cited source-based Meta documents which were denied by the social media giant.

On Thursday, the news portal in a statement said that they have retracted their Meta stories after conducting an internal review of the technical source material used, with the help of external experts.

“That process of review is still underway, but one clear editorial learning which can already be stated with certainty is that complex technical evidence – whether brought by someone who is part of the newsroom or a freelancer – and all verification processes that involve technical skill, must be cross-checked by independent and reputed experts in the field. Had we done this before publication rather than after the fact, this would have ensured that the deception to which we were subjected by a member of our Meta investigation team was spotted in time,” the statement said.

This is an updated version of the story.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: Penalising social media last resort, says Centre on new IT rules but critics wary

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