The Internet has tried to help out and spread accurate information in the search for alleged Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, it really has. Unfortunately, since Monday’s attack, the mob mentality, rapid spread of news, and unchecked crowd-sourced investigations have combined to implicate multiple innocent people whose Google results will never be the same. Adding to the harmful conjecture that unfairly cast innocent non-Caucasian people as suspects earlier in the week, the chaos leading up to last night’s (as of yet unfinished) chase added more names to the too-long list of those wrongfully accused, including missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, whose friends and family already had enough to worry about.
Who: Sunil Tripathi
How: Reddit — where efforts to I.D. persons of interest in the bombing have done more harm than good — ran with a rumor that Tripathi, who was last seen on March 15, could be involved. Although tweets claim Sunil’s name was uttered amid police scanner chatter — which regular people have no idea how to decipher — no one is able to confirm it was ever said. “It wasn’t said,” said one blogger who was listening. (Another man, Mike Mulugeta, was actually named on the scanner and became another false suspect.) But the Tripathi story still managed to make its way into the media conversation, onto blogs, and, more important, to Tripathi’s family, despite the fact that he was never considered a suspect.
The Consequences: “A tremendous and painful amount of attention has been cast on our beloved Sunil Tripathi in the past twelve hours,” said a statement on the Facebook group Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi. “We have known unequivocally all along that neither individual suspected as responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was Sunil. We are grateful to all of you who have followed us on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit — supporting us over the recent hours. Now more than ever our greatest strength comes from your enduring support. We thank all of you who have reached out to our family and ask that you continue to raise awareness and to help us find our gentle, loving, and thoughtful Sunil.”
In its own statement, the Reddit group FindBostonBombers said, “We cannot begin to know what you’re going through and for that we are truly sorry. Several users, twitter users, and other sources had heard him identified as the suspect and believed it to be confirmed. We were mistaken.” Tripathi is still missing.
Who: Salah Eddin Barhoum, a.k.a. one of the “Bag Men”
How: While also originating on Reddit, along with a host of others pictured in the vicinity of the blast, Barhoum and his fellow brown running enthusiast made it all the way to the cover of the New York Post, where he was not technically called a suspect. But the implications were clear. Even after the Post reported that the men had been cleared, editor Col Allan said, “We stand by our story.”
The Consequences: “People are definitely going to be looking for me just to hurt me. It’s too much,” said Barhoum after going to the authorities to clear his name. “It’s such a disaster. To be blamed for all that injury and death. It’s the worst.”
Who: Saudi Man
How: Another New York Post special, the tabloid reported that the 20-year-old Saudi Arabian man injured in the blast was being guarded at a local hospital. Even after it was clear he was not considered a suspect, Fox News tracked down the guy’s roommate to ask if he could possibly be responsible. No, it turns out.
The Consequences: Glenn Beck reported that the young man, who was here on a student visa, was being deported, but Buzzfeed proved the story false. The New York Post stories still exist, without any corrections or clarifications.
Who: Running Away Man/Roof Man
How: A local Boston NBC affiliate wondered why “you see this individual really fleeing from the scene … either he was badly burned and panicked, and fleeing, or he was fleeing for some other reason.” As if it weren’t obvious enough at the time, we know now for sure that he was running because a bomb had just gone off. As for the guy not-suspiciously watching the Boston Marathon from a nearby roof, he didn’t do it either.
The Consequences: While their photos will forever be tied to the paranoia-laden period of uncertainty after the bombing, at least these men — both white, it’s worth pointing out — don’t have their names out there, tied to crimes they did not commit. Tripathi and Bahroum are not so lucky.