Edtech company WhiteHat Jr and its founder Karan Bajaj recently got a temporary injunction against Pradeep Poonia, a self-proclaimed whistleblower who has been publicly slamming the company for its marketing and underhand tactics. The tussle between Poonia and WhiteHat Jr originated from a video Poonia made on ‘Wolf Gupta’, a 'student' who was widely advertised by WhiteHat Jr as having secured jobs with companies like Google and Apple for astronomical salaries.
WhiteHat Jr has been using Wolf Gupta as a tool to sell its product at least since March this year. However, while the campaign may have run for at least eight months before being pulled off, it is only in its defamation suit against Poonia has WhiteHat Jr and Karan Bajaj mentioned for the first time that this character is fictional.
WhiteHat Jr, a company that teaches children how to code and acquired by Byju's in August 2020, is known for its aggressive marketing strategies. These strategies include saying that children could become the next Sundar Pichai, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. One kid who featured on multiple ads by the company was ‘Wolf Gupta’, whose age could be 9, 12 or 13, and is said to have bagged a package anywhere between Rs 1.2 crore to Rs 150 crore from Google. All this, because ‘Wolf Gupta’ learned to code, while other kids he went to school with didn’t do anything after they returned home, if Whitehat Jr’s messaging is anything to go by. Wolf Gupta allegedly even had a LinkedIn account of his own. Another name used often in similar ads was Ryan Venkat.
“12-year Old Wolf Gupta learnt AI to get Rs 1.2 cr job from Google while other kids his age didn’t know what to do after school. Coding makes your kids entrepreneurs and scientists in the new world. World’s first 1:1 AI coding course for kids. Free Trial. Age 6-18 Only,” one of WhiteHat Jr’s ads reads.
Many have raised questions on who Wolf Gupta was, and accused the company of confusing parents and children with a fictional character. Even Poonia’s video on Wolf Gupta would likely have been a drop in the ocean, if not for WhiteHat Jr’s aggressive techniques to take down criticism. There have multiple reports of WhiteHat Jr taking down various posts criticising it or its methods.
According to Poonia, his video on Wolf Gupta has been taken down at least thrice, with it being reported for copyright infringement. Along with this, he has also been barred from LinkedIn. WhiteHat Jr and Karan Bajaj have admitted in the legal suit that they sent takedown notices to social media platforms including YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Reddit, “which were the platforms where the said posts were put up.”
But as WhiteHat Jr’s aggressive marketing tactics became a talking point on social media, the name Wolf Gupta has taken on a life of its own, and is a part of many jokes, and even videos have been made to investigate if this character is real or not.
WhiteHat Jr has also been found to be in violation of guidelines issued by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), for making dubious and unsubstantiated claims. But till the time its founder Karan Bajaj filed a defamation suit in the Delhi High Court against Poonia, WhiteHat Jr has reportedly never divulged that Wolf Gupta, who they even made a LinkedIn account for, was fake. The suit also says that ads were subsequently withdrawn “under legal advice”
“He is a fictional character for whom they have created a LinkedIn profile as well. There is no disclaimer about this completely false fact… I am yet to come across any disclaimer till the date the plaint is filed, that Wolf Gupta is a fictional character. They are duping the public,” Poonia’s lawyer Swathi Sukumar told the court on Monday.
To this, the Delhi HC agreed that a fictional imaginary child will ‘undoubtedly have consequences on a child's psychology’.
As communications consultant Karthik (@beastoftraal) wrote on his blog, where WhiteHat Jr’s advertising about Wolf Gupta differed from regular advertising is that usually, the product being promoted belongs to the company that is advertising it. In this case, Google isn’t owned by WhiteHat Jr, but the edtech startup “depends on the believability of Google’s existence to sell their larger fictional construct”.
That on or about early September 2020, the Defendant [Poonia] started putting up posts on various social media platforms regarding the Plaintiffs [Karan Bajaj and WhiteHat Jr]. Although the Defendant’s initial posts about Plaintiff No. 2 started in relation to the Plaintiff No. 2’s advertisements concerning an imaginary child who the Plaintiffs christened “Wolf Gupta”, the Defendant’s posts quickly turned sinister subsequent to the withdrawal of the advertisements, with the Defendant claiming that Plaintiff No. 1 had “murdered” Wolf Gupta.