Amidst the uncontrolled flow of information on the search for two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, a young Indian-American, Sunil Tripathi (22), became a casualty of media overzealousness after he was falsely named as a person of interest in the case.
Mr. Tripathi, a philosophy student at Brown University, has been missing since March 16. While his family was said to have been “desperately searching for him,” and even opened up a Facebook account titled ‘Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi,’ they had a rude shock on Thursday when social media, apparently taking its cue from chatter on Boston Police scanners, sent rumours flying about him being a suspect in the case.
Sunil “Sunny” Tripathi who was reportedly raised in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, was said to have taken time off from university and lived in an apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, with his classmates, before he went missing. He was said to have left his apartment without his wallet and mobile phone.
But his name surfaced again this week when outlets such as Fox News reported, “Police are hoping the video will provide new clues to help find Tripathi, who was last seen by his housemate two weeks ago.”
Obviously shocked by the news Mr. Tripathi's brother and sister, Ravi and Sangeeta, told media that several area businesses have been reviewing their surveillance videos for any signs of their sibling.
Yet redemption only came at 2.24 am local time, when NBC News tweeted to say, "Speculation that one of bombing suspects is a missing student is not correct, sources tell @PeteWilliamsNBC.”
Even as two Chechen-origin brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were subsequently identified as the “true” suspects in the case, social media apologies followed, with one person who had hinted at Mr. Tripathi’s involvement in the case saying on Twitter, “I send my deepest regrets for falsely identifying him as a suspect...”
Going by photographs of Mr. Tripathi circulating on Twitter and Facebook, many assumed Mr. Tripathi was the white-cap wearing man, subsequently thought to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. By that time, however, Mr. Tripathi had variously been labelled in media reports as a “left-wing Marxist of Indian Brahmin descent,? whose father is a successful software developer.
Angry reactions spilled over in India with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeting, “In spite of the Sunil Tripathi fiasco social media users will still believe in a God given gift to tweet/post first & confirm much later.”
Keywords: Boston bomb blast