Reddit apologizes to family of missing Brown student Sunil Tripathi

The social media site Reddit has reached out and apologized to missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi's family for the site's part in misidentifying him as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.

In an age of digital ubiquity, where Internet mavens, users and watchers can be cybersleuths, there exists the unsettling possibility that the amateurs can get it wrong and drag an innocent person through the mud.

While user-submitted videos and anecdotes contributed to the identification of Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, they also led to accusations against innocent individuals who we later learned had nothing to do with the bombings, like Sunil Tripathi, a missing Brown University student who Thursday night was misidentified on social media and on Reddit as one of the bombing suspects.

Yesterday, Reddit general manager Erik Martin took to the site's blog to apologize to Tripathi's family for his site's misidentification. He also urged Redditers to help Tripathi's family and law enforcement with the search for him. Tripathi has been missing from Providence since March 16.

"We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they [the Tripathi family] have had to endure," Martin wrote in a blog post on Reddit. "We hope that this painful event will be channeled into something positive and the increased awareness will lead to Sunil's quick and safe return home. We encourage everyone to join and show your support to the Tripathi family and their search."

In his apology, Martin also wrote that while Reddit users had noble intentions in tracking down the Boston terrorists, some site activity fueled rampant speculation that created witch hunts and negative consequences for innocent parties. He apologized publicly for the site's wrongdoing and said that Reddit staff had also done so privately to the Tripathi family.

According to The Atlantic, Tripathi's name popped up when one of his former classmate's believed she saw him in surveillance photos, a comment that was flagged and promoted on Reddit. Then, a Twitter user named Greg Hughes, who in prior tweets had lauded the Internet for being right and not first, reported that Tripathi's name was announced on a Boston Police scanner as one of the bombing suspects. According to The Atlantic however, Tripathi's name was never mentioned on a scanner.

But speculation about Tripathi began spreading like wildfire, and reports that he was a suspect were picked up by prominent journalists from Politico, Newsweek, Buzzfeed and many other mainstream news outlets.

Only a few hours later did NBC's Pete Williams confirm that Tripathi was not involved in the police investigation. 

Tripathi's family said their son has struggled with depression in the past and left his Providence apartment without any belongings. The FBI joined the search for Tripathi in March.


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