The police found a body pulled from a river that could be missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, who fell victim to a Reddit-facilitated witch-hunt and was inaccurately named as a suspect for the Boston bombings last week.
His persecution was destructive and unwarranted, and it also reveals the unreliability of information found on the internet. Despite its vast amounts of knowledge, most of the Internet is user-driven and oftentimes not factually checked. Believe it or not, the Internet is not the answer to all of our questions.
Sunil went missing on March 16, and his family had taken to social media, creating a Facebook page dedicated to his safe return. Similar to the Reddit users of /r/findbostonbombers, the Tripathi family felt that the Internet’s far-reaching, rapid fire, global-reaching power could only help their case.
Little did the Tripathis know that it would turn their already nightmarish lives into absolute terror.
A Reddit user, aptly named “oops007” decided to create the subReddit page and lead what is being called as “the most crowdsourced investigation in American history.” The page amassed an enormous amount of photos from individual users, and the Reddit sleuths came together to mine through all the pictures looking for the two baseball-capped, backpack-wearing suspects.
One of Sunil’s old high school classmates thought one of the suspects resembled the Brown student. Then, the Facebook page his family had made for him surfaced onto Reddit — users went rampant. Later, a single tweet referenced that Sunil’s name had been read out in a blip on the Boston police scanner, and it was over.
The Tripathis were immediately harassed with calls, Facebook posts, and emails, accusing Sunil as the bombing suspect. National and local reporters who had been watching the subReddit page closely triumphantly identified Sunil as the perpetrator, all the while praising the efforts and effectiveness of Reddit-led investigative work. News vans were parked outside of the Tripathi residence.
By all intents and purposes, Sunil had become the prime suspect, with absolutely no confirmation from any officials or professionals — just at the behest of Reddit.
It soon came out that the authorities had identified the suspects, and it wasn’t Sunil. It was the Tsarnaev brothers. It was also revealed that Sunil’s name had never been said on the scanner.
Never should investigations of crime and terrorist acts, especially of this magnitude, be given to anarchy rule. Reddit users have the right to do whatever they want in the user-powered interface, but they do not get to accuse an innocent man of mass murder and spreading that information without inconceivable proof. Writers also should have done their job and fact-checked before making what should be a foolproof statement.
Many say the internet turned humans into a smarter species. However, this Reddit-fueled witch hunt has only shown how complacent and self-indulgent we’ve become. We feel we have so much knowledge and power in our phones and computers that we can take control and possibly completely destroy another person's life.