Skip to main content

Boston Marathon bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: The real suspect
 
How speculation and false identification both damaged an innocent family and had the potential to become even worse:
The story begins with speculation on Twitter and Reddit that a missing Brown student, Sunil Tripathi, was one of the bombers. One person who went to high school with him thought she recognized him in the surveillance photographs. People compared photos they could find of him to the surveillance photos released by the FBI.
An effort to crowdsource identification of the suspects was what the FBI intended by releasing the pictures; false leads are an unfortunate but expected side effect, so I don't think condemnation of those efforts could possibly be appropriate. But the name spread like wildfire, with many, many people jumping to the conclusion that that name was the correct one. Worse, twitterers also seem to have made a critical misstep during the night, whether accidental or intentional, with claims that Tripathi and another name had been positively identified over police scanners when it wasn't clear if one name had any relation to the bombing, and as for the other:
The only problem is that there is no mention of Sunil Tripathi in the audio preceding [that] tweet. I've listened to it a dozen times and there's nothing there even remotely resembling Tripathi's name. […] Multiple groups of people have been crowdsourcing logs of the police scanner chatter and none of them have found a reference to Tripathi, either. It's just not there.
Nonetheless, those tweets were widely rebroadcast. Alexis Madrigal takes the story from there. It's not pretty.

In addition to being a horrible thing to do to family members who are still desperately seeking Tripathi, the missing student, even forcing them to remove an online page begging for help in the search, is it possible the viral misidentification had an effect on the ongoing search for the actual suspects? It's not clear, but we already know that at least one person who thought they recognized one of the two bombing suspects in the FBI-released pictures assumed she was mistaken because she had already heard the name "Tripathi" floating around:

"The scary thing is yes. This is actually the same reaction that a lot of people i went to high school had. We recognized him. […] I said wow, that looks just like Jahar, but everyone was identifying him at that time saying that he was the missing guy from Brown, so we all just assumed that it was just a coincidence and I went back to bed. And then I woke up and the scary thing is that was true. It was Jahar.
It's very likely that the FBI already had the correct names at that point, given how quickly afterwards the two were publicly identified. Still, it's yet another cautionary tale for would-be sleuths and reporters alike; getting the information right is infinitely more important than getting the information first. Given the amount of false or unconfirmed information flying around right now, keeping that caution is especially important.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site