Did Reddit ‘kill’ falsely accused Boston bomber? Most likely not

Bradley Wint
By: - 26th Apr 2013
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News has come that Sunil Tripathi’s body was found in the waters off India Point Park. This comes after submission-based forum Reddit was blamed for wrongly accusing him of being the Boston Bomber. However, are they really the ones responsible for his death?

Reddit is once again receiving a dose of extremely negative attention, this time from after an AP story about the recovery of the 22-year old’s body that was republished by many major syndicate media outlets, including USA Today which received close to 31k shares on Facebook.

A body pulled from the water off India Point Park in Rhode Island has been identified as the Brown University student mistakenly linked by amateur sleuths on a social media site to the Boston bombings.

The body of 22-year-old Sunil Tripathi was identified through dental records, Health Department spokeswoman Dara Chadwick said Thursday.

It was not immediately clear when Tripathi, who was last seen March 15, died. The cause of death has also not been determined.

Police said that no signs of trauma were found initially and that the investigation could take months.

Tripathi’s body was found Tuesday by members of the Brown University crew team.

The Pennsylvania native was on leave from the Ivy League school but was living in an apartment near campus in Providence, R.I., with several other students.

The article takes a stab at Reddit after the cat-loving, animal advice-giving, community ran a witch hunt to find out who was responsible for the Boston Marathon Bombing. The very first line of the article fails to discuss what the actual story is about, but instead targets Reddit, saying that “Reddit apologized for the ‘dangerous speculation’ on the site that pointed fingers at the student.”

Even though Reddit is just an Internet forum that allows anyone to have a voice in any matter, there is no doubt that anything they do could have a massive impact should enough effort go behind a cause, rightfully earning them the slogan of  being “the front page of the internet.”

Who can blame them?

The collective group of users were simply concerned with trying to find the criminals responsible for death of 3 innocent civilians and injury to many others near the two bomb sites. However their noble efforts quickly got out of hand after one of Reddit’s rules was broken, that being that members should “never post other peoples’ personal information, no matter what the context,” resulting in two young men being falsely accused of carrying out the attacks.

Attention was centered around 22-year-old Sunil Tripathi and 17-year-old Salah Barhoun.

After word spread on Reddit, the Internet essentially locked its guns on both Tripathi and Barhoun.

Barhoun was forced to use his Facebook account to declare his innocence, but what was weird was that Tripathi was no where to be found.

Before I get into Tripathi’s story, I should mention that the same media outlets that depended on Reddit’s outcome turned their backs on the social forum, blaming them for the false accusation of the two young men. Even CNN with their shoddy and inaccurate reporting during the bombing aftermath took aim at Reddit for being “amateur sleuths”. Reddit quickly released a lengthy blog post apologizing on behalf of the redditors responsible for falsely accusing two people of carrying out the crime that took place on April 15th.

Where was Sunil Tripathi when all this happened?

Here’s where the plot thickens. Even though the Boston Bombings took place on April 18th, Sunil Tripathi has actually been reported missing almost a month before (March 15th). His family said that when his room mate last saw him, his wallet, phone, and bicycle were all left at his off-campus apartment. They also mentioned that he was depressed and suicidal.

A Facebook Page entitled “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi” was set up to assist with spreading the word should someone know about his whereabouts.

After coping with the mass of negative-feedback from Reddit witch hunt fiasco, the very unfortunate news came in that authorities found Sunil’s body in the waters off India Point Park.

Sunil Tripathi (center) with his sister Sangeeta Tripathi (left) and brother Ravi Tripathi (right)

Sunil Tripathi (center) with his sister, Sangeeta Tripathi (left) and brother, Ravi Tripathi (right).

On the Facebook Page, they posted this:

On April 23, our beloved Sunil was discovered in the waters off India Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island.

As we carry indescribable grief, we also feel incredible gratitude. To each one of you–from our hometown to many distant lands–we extend our thanks for the words of encouragement, for your thoughts, for your hands, for your prayers, and for the love you have so generously shared.

Your compassionate spirit is felt by Sunil and by all of us.

This last month has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours too. Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.

With love,
The Tripathi Family

Considering all the events that took place, the Tripathi family came out at the losing end of the stick, first having to deal with the false accusations originating from Reddit and the wider community, and then finding out their son was found dead after they searched for him for over a month.

Was Reddit really to blame for this?

Even though the AP did mention Sunil going missing on March 15th, they spent most of the time throwing blame at Reddit even when there was little evidence to link to two events.

Here are the facts:

  1. He left all his belongings the day he went missing, and a suicide note was found at his apartment.
  2. Tripathi’s parents acknowledged the fact that he suffered from depression and displayed suicidal tendencies.
  3. Reddit accused him based on comparisons of photos taken from the scene of the crime and from a picture of Tripathi on a missing poster.
  4. Reddit made a circumstantial judgement that because Tripathi was missing for so long, that he might have been the bomber.
  5. The body fished from the waters bore no marks of physical injury, most likely pointing towards suicide.

Based on these facts, there is almost nothing that can link Reddit’s actions to Tripathi’s death. What took place was just a case of coincidence and bad timing.

With that in mind, Redditors shouldn’t pop the bottles of champagne just yet because their actions were clearly misguided, inexcusable, and unnecessary. Their vigilante justice clearly went against one of Reddit’s cardinal rules where one should “never post other peoples’ personal information, no matter what the context.”

Mashable also makes note of this in their interpretation of the whole incident.

With this in mind, we’d like to express our condolences to the Tripathi family and wish them the best through this time of hardship.

[Cover Photo: Eva Blue/Flickr]

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