Delhi Police raid homes of Wire editors; electronic devices seized
The Delhi Police on Monday reportedly carried out searches at the homes of The Wire editors Siddharth Varadarajan, M K Venu and Jahnavi Sen, according to some media reports.
The raids follow an FIR filed on the complaint of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) IT cell chief Amit Malviya against The Wire editors on charges of cheating, forgery, defamation and criminal conspiracy. Besides Varadarajan, Venu and Sen, the FIR had also named Sidharth Bhatia, another editor of The Wire.
According to reports, the raids are being carried out on the behalf of Delhi Police Crime Branch. As per ANI report, electronic devices such as mobiles and laptops have been seized from the residences of both editors.
Malviya filed the complaint after The Wire withdrew its series of articles on Meta that claimed that Malviya had special privileges under a programme called X-Check through which any report he flagged was removed from Instagram with “no questions asked”.
Meta is the parent firm of Instagram.
The articles in question
The Wire had retracted the articles saying that it had been deceived by a member of its investigative team. On October 29, it had filed a complaint against its former consultant Devesh Kumar, who had worked on the Meta articles. The Wire complaint said that Kumar “fabricated and supplied documents, emails and other material such as videos with a view to damaging The Wire and its reputation.”
In a statement on Thursday, it had said that journalists rely on sources for stories and do their best to verify material they receive. “Technological evidence is more complicated and the usual due diligence may not always reveal the fraud perpetrated upon a publication. This is what happened to us,” it said.
‘Raids smack of mala fide intentions’
Meanwhile, in its response to the raids, The Digipub News India Foundation, an 11-member digital-only news association, has said that the “immediate and arbitrary search” based on a complaint filed by a spokesperson of the ruling BJP “smacks of mala fide intentions”.
In a statement, Digipub said that the purpose of the searches was to create a chilling effect against journalism in India. “Moreover the danger of these searches being used as an excuse to seize and duplicate confidential and sensitive data held by The Wire cannot be dismissed,” the statement noted.
Digipub, however, also underlines that a media organisation should be held accountable by its peers and the civil society for publishing a false report. The investigation could become “a tool to further worsen the already fraught state of journalism in India,” the The association cautioned.
A brief history of The Wire vs Meta controversy
On October 6, The Wire reported that a satirical post showing a man worshipping a statue of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath was deleted by Instagram for violating its guidelines on “nudity and sexual content” even though the image did not depict any nudity.
Following this up with a report on October 10, The Wire claimed that the Instagram post was taken down after a complaint by Malviya. The report in The Wire claimed that Malviya has special privileges through an Instagram tool called X-Check that through which he can report any post and get it removed from the platform immediately, with “no questions asked”, even if they do not violate Meta’s rules.
Andy Stone, Meta’s communications director, said on October 11 that The Wire’s report was based on false information, adding that X-Check system had “nothing to do with the ability to report posts”. The posts in question were surfaced for review by automated systems, not humans,” he said. Stone said that an internal report of Instagram cited by The Wire’s source “appears to be fabricated”.
On October 11, The Wire defended its report and published another article with an image of an email allegedly sent by Stone to some of his colleagues on October 11, rebuking them over the internal Instagram report “leak” and seeking more information on the matter.
Stone had asked his colleagues to put Varadarajan and Sen on a “watchlist,” the report claimed. Responding to this, Guy Rosen, Meta’s Chief Information Security Officer, claimed that the email, too, was fake.
On October 15, The Wire said that it had verified Stone’s email. The publication also produced more technical evidence to support its claims. However, technical experts were remained sceptical and expressed concerns about the veracity of the report.
In a piece explaining the technical process that it had followed while writing the articles, the news website cited redacted emails from two cybersecurity experts, both of whom later denied having been part of the process.