For those fighting against Modi’s supposed fascism and undeclared emergency, The Wire has been a ray of hope, upholding whatever little democracy is left in India. Yes, they lied. Yes, they fabricated emails and screenshots. They tarnished the image of a global tech giant and India’s ruling party. Yes, they now have to retract the story and many other stories in the process. Yes, it is not the first time. But The Wire, in its apology, clearly tells us that it was only a one-off case of technically illiterate crusaders being misled by villain Devesh Kumar. And, as we know, Siddharth is an honourable man.
The Wire first claimed that the IT Cell chief of India’s ruling party Amit Malviya was receiving preferential treatment from Meta, the owners of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. According to The Wire, Instagram would take down any post that Malviya found objectionable, no questions asked. As proof, it furnished screenshots of what it claimed was internal communication. When Meta’s communication chief Andy Stone denied the story, The Wire published what it claimed to be emailed from Stone himself, demanding answers and covering up the story. When doubts were raised about the email’s veracity on grounds ranging from technicality to bad English, The Wire claimed two experts had authenticated the mail. When the two experts said they had never authenticated anything, The Wire continued to brazen it out until it could no longer and retracted the story. But The Wire, being the paragon of virtue, had no reason to believe that the whole world was right and only they were wrong. And Siddharth is an honourable man.
The Wire apologised to everyone except those they had maligned, like Andy Stone and Amit Malviya. During the saga, many pointed out that the English in the fabricated emails did not seem to be written by the communications chief of the world’s largest social media conglomerate. But it did not raise a red flag among the Editors. Moreover, today it is claimed that the Editors and the management were misled, but Jahnavi Sen and Siddharth Vardarajan also bylined the second story. If they did not know what they were writing about or could not verify things for themselves, did they simply paradrop on Devesh’s story to take credit? Now The Wire claims it was Devesh all along and have filed a police complaint against him. On what basis do the other two suddenly stop being complicit? And if Siddharth knows he has been taken for a ride, on what basis does Jahnavi get a clean chit, but Devesh does not? But The Wire, one of India’s few independent media outlets that survive, must have its reasons. And Siddharth is an honourable man.
The Wire vs Meta
- On October 6, The Wire reported that Instagram removed a photograph of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s ‘temple’ for violating its guidelines. As per the report, the image was uploaded by Instagram handle @cringearchivist, and it was removed over ‘sexual activity and nudity’ restrictions.
- On October 10, the propaganda portal The Wire published a report with the title ‘If BJP’s Amit Malviya Reports Your Post, Instagram Will Take it Down – No Questions Asked’.
- In the report, The Wire claimed that BJP’s IT Cell Chief Amit Malviya has such power in Meta, that if he reports any post on the platform, it gets removed by the system, no questions asked.
- Later, The Wire published the ‘explosive expose’ that the video of CM Yogi’s temple was allegedly flagged by none other than Amit Malviya. It further reported that the appeal against the removal was denied because of the privileges Malviya enjoyed for being on the XCheck list. Also, The Wire claimed that 100 % of over 700 posts flagged from Malviya’s account were removed instantly.
- Soon after the report was published, Meta officials took onto Twitter to refute the claims made by The Wire.
- Following Stone’s rebuttal, The Wire came up with another story on October 11, where they alleged that the documents they used were not fabricated. To support their allegations, The Wire shared a screenshot of an alleged mail by Andy Stone where he was upset that an internal document had been leaked to them.
- Meta’s Chief Information Security Officer Guy Rosen had to come out and clear the air that The Wire’s entire reporting is fabricated and based on forged documents. Guy Rosen shared a thread where he detailed how The Wire’s reports don’t hold any water.
- On October 29, The Wire filed a complaint at the Economic Offence Wing of the Delhi Police against its former employee and so-called ‘researcher’ Devesh Kumar, claiming he provided forged documents with “an intent to malign The Wire’s reputation”.
n On October 29, Amit Malviya filed a complaint with Delhi Police against The Wire, its editors, and reporters and said they published a series of stories with the intent to tarnish his reputation.
Devesh Kumar is an interesting figure in the entire saga. Devesh was The Wire’s budding superstar who had already taken down many giants, considered amongst the most tech-savvy people in the country. He had claimed to run a parallel IT Cell against the regime, trying to stay one step ahead of the regime’s bot game. When Devesh unearthed the Tek Fog story, Siddharth had showered praise on him. When questions were raised about the Meta story, Siddharth was interviewed by a publication called Platformer, which asked him about Devesh’s credibility. “I don’t think we should make this about Devesh, frankly,” Siddharth replied. “This should be equally about me, I was hands on involved in the story.” Siddharth also tweeted a few days into the saga, when some people speculated that The Wire had been taken for a ride, rubbishing the possibility. “Apart from Meta’s ‘fabrication’ charge, some folks are saying @thewire_in may have been ‘played’ by unknown elements out to discredit us or further some outlandish conspiracy. This is ridiculous. Our stories came from multiple Meta sources—whom we know, have met & verified,” he tweeted. But now, in its police complaint, The Wire says that Devesh supplied them with fabricated documents and that he seemed highly disturbed mentally. And, of course, Siddharth is an honourable man.
“The Wire has destroyed core of journalism. It is not good to run any kind of agenda based on fake news. But right now this is a matter of consideration why The Wire runs a fake agenda. It’s not the first case when The Wire was found misleading the news “— Kanchan Gupta Senior Adviser, Ministry of I&B
Another story that The Wire has been forced to retract is the Tek Fog story because Devesh had been the brain who had unearthed that as well. This story was about a software application that the BJP supposedly uses to infiltrate social media platforms and push favourable agendas. Until last month, it was considered to be one of The Wire’s crowning achievements. Many international publications like the ‘Washington Post, Bloomberg, Le Monde’ and others portal’s it, giving the BJP a bad name internationally. The Wire’s story has been retracted, but these articles in the international press continue to stand. A Wikipedia page about it still exists at the time of writing this article. Who takes responsibility for all the damage it has caused? But The Wire cannot be expected to do so because if every little retraction is used to blame them for the repercussions of their stories, then we cannot expect this dedicated outlet to go about its journalism freely. And Siddharth is an honourable man.
The claim that it was a one-off error on the part of The Wire, that they have apologised and it is now time to move on, has also been questioned by many. After all, this is the same portal that was taken to court for its reportage of the Rafale deal in 2018. In 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah had filed a defamation case against the portal. The Wire had moved to the Supreme Court after the Gujarat High Court rejected their plea against a trial court order summoning them. In the course of the arguments, Justice BR Gavai had observed, “It’s nothing short of yellow journalism. What kind of journalism is this?” Earlier this year, a Telangana court had made The Wire take down 14 articles it had published against Bharat Biotech, the makers of India’s indigenous Covid-19 vaccine, during the pandemic. One social media user pointed out that if you run a simple google search of the words “an earlier version of this article” for The Wire, an ocean of results pops up. This indicates that the content of the portal’s articles are routinely changed, even after they are published. If there is a constant need to update the same articles, it is not because the story has developed, for those additions could be made without changing the initial facts. It is because the content itself is often found wanting. But if some people cannot understand The Wire’s impeccable investigative journalism and the twists and turns it takes, The Wire cannot be held responsible. And Siddharth is an honourable man.
“Bosses of The Wire run a series of stories based on repeated forgery, and kept doubling down. When caught, all sanctimonious preaching ends. To save their own skin, they scapegoat reporter Devesh Kumar. Character of our ‘liberal’ intelligentsia.”
— Abhijit Majumder, Editor-in-chief of earshot.in
Many are now bringing up the past about the publication’s founding editor, the circumstances under which a national daily sacked him, or how he withheld the reporting of a major scam. This is completely uncalled for. If anything, The Wire is really the victim in this story. Despite so many instances of fake news and the consequent attempts to bring The Wire to its knees, it is evident that they have finally fallen only because they dared to take on American “big tech”. However, every American news outlet keeps taking on American big tech, blaming them for unfavourable election results or the suppression of crucial stories. This clearly indicates that either The Wire’s story was not good enough or The Wire is not American enough to pull this off. The Wire is the real victim here, and Siddharth is an honourable man.
Now, there is massive outrage that the police have raided the residences of The Wire’s Editors. Yes, we are well aware of what they did, but how can journalists be raided in a democracy for a little bit of forgery, they ask. Is it not blatant authoritarianism when the law taking its course comes in the way of press freedom, they argue? Journalist hein, galti ho jati hai, they seem to tell us, slightly altering Mulayam’s age-old maxim. There is no argument here. Indian journalists, or even non-Indian ones settled here, speaking truth to power when we have a government that does not resonate with their idea of India, are god’s gifts to humanity. Who are we, the unperfumed masses, to question them or subject them to the country’s laws? We are not even civil society, for that matter. We are only worthy of bowing down and accepting everything these eminences do and say as the gospel truth. And come what may, we must never forget that Siddharth is an honourable man.
Ajit Datta is an author and political commentator. He is the biographer of Assam's Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, and has columns in several publications. He is one of the voices behind The Frustrated Indian, and has co-founded one of India's foremost literature festivals, the Pondy Lit Fest.