Should Reddit Be Blamed For The Spreading Of A Smear?

At 5 p.m. on April 18, three days after the bombs went off at the marathon finish line, the F.B.I. released grainy photographs of two suspects. For the past month, the Tripathis had been renting a house and spending their days working with F.B.I. agents, Brown administrators and an organization dedicated to finding missing persons. Early on in the search, the family created a Facebook page called “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi,” which included video messages from family and friends and recent images of Sunil — walking the beach with his older brother, Ravi; attending his sister’s graduation ceremony; posing with his mother at a Phillies game.

Minutes after the world first saw the suspects’ photos, a user on Reddit, the online community that is also one of the largest Web sites in the world, posted side-by-side pictures comparing Sunil’s facial features with the face that would later be identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The pictures were accompanied by speculation about the circumstances surrounding Sunil’s disappearance and the F.B.I.’s involvement in his search. By 8 p.m., three hours after the F.B.I. released the suspects’ photos, angry messages began to appear on the Tripathi’s Facebook page, and at 8:15 Ravi received a phone call from a reporter at ABC News in New York, who asked if Sunil had been spotted in Boston and if Ravi had seen the F.B.I. photos of Suspect No. 2. Ravi, unclear at what she was getting at, told her there had been no word from Sunil. As the minutes passed and the volume of threatening Facebook messages increased, the Tripathis finally called their F.B.I. contact in Providence, who assured them that nobody within his office believ.

The removal of “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi” was noted by several people in the media, including Sasha Stone, who runs an inside-Hollywood Web site called Awards Daily. At 10:56 p.m., Stone tweeted: “I’m sure by now the @fbipressoffice is looking into this dude” and included a link to the Facebook page. Seven minutes later, she tweeted: “Seconds after I sent that tweet the page is gone off of Facebook. If you can cache it . . .” For Erik Malinowski, a senior sportswriter at the Web site BuzzFeed, the takedown of “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi” was noteworthy enough to pass along. At midnight, Malinowski, whose Twitter following includes a number of journalists, tweeted: “FYI: A Facebook group dedicated to finding Sunil Tripathi, the missing Brown student, was deleted this evening.” Roughly 300 Twitter users retweeted Malinowski’s post, including the pop-culture blogger Perez Hilton, who sent Sunil Tripathi’s name out to more than six million followers. From there, the small, contained world of speculation exploded on every social-media platform. Several journalists began tweeting out guarded thoughts about Sunil’s involvement. If the family had taken down the Facebook page, the reasoning went, it must mean that the Tripathis had seen their missing son in the grainy photos of Suspect No. 2. ed that Sunil was Suspect No. 2.


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