Amidst the Boston Marathon kerfuffle, the New York Post ran a front page photo of a couple of teenage runners under the headline “Bag Men.” It implied that the duo was partly to blame for the bombing incident. But it was all a big misunderstanding.
The kids in the picture had nothing to do with the attacks. Still, the public associated them with act of terror after their picture appeared in hundreds of online channels. It created unfortunate misinformation.
“People at, not just at Reddit but 4chan other Internet forums, decided that they could help with the investigation by taking all the photos that had come out of the bombing, combing through them and looking for—and I’m sort of air quoting here—suspicious characters. People carrying backpacks, people who might look like a terrorist,” explained Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic.
Some critics even went as far as to say that the social media community disrupted the official investigation. Investigators were sometimes led astray by pursuing false suspects, resulting in confusion.
Sunil Tripathi of Brown University was falsely identified as one of the bombers. It was a baseless rumor but spread online.
Sunil’s pictures were uploaded by his family in hopes of locating him—he has been missing for more than a month. However, when the rumors began to pour in and angry messages were being tagged to the photo, the family was forced to take the post down.
Sangeeta Tripathi, Sunil’s sister, said that the rumors were the last thing their family needed. They were already worried sick about Sunil and it was compounded by hate messages and false rumors.
Later on, police identified the real suspects and Reddit apologized to the Tripathi family in behalf of its users, who fuelled the spread of false information.