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back to article Student falsely IDed by Reddit as Boston bomber found dead

Sunil Tripathi, the 22 year-old Brown University philosophy student mistakenly identified as a suspect in the Boston bombings by amateur investigators on Reddit, has been found dead in the Providence River, his family has said. Sunil Tripathi Sunil Tripathi, center, in happier times "This last month has changed our lives …

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sigh

What's sad is many in the media portrait this to be some recent phenomenon due to the technology. What I say to this is the best movie I have seen showing the nasty after effects of this type of behavior was made in black and white way back during WW2 (The Ox-Bow Incident). Largely the only reason people think some aspect of human behavior is new is because they have not lived long enough to see it repeated yet.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036244/

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Re: sigh

I wish there was something like tvtropes.org for real-world social tropes which repeat but people just don't recognize them. Sort of like a combination of snopes.com and a history handbook.

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Unhappy

Re: sigh

People are pricks, aren't they.

And then they wonder what's wrong with the world.

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Gimp

public prosecutions...

Investigations can too easily turn into public prosecutions.

The family was certainly put through some tough stuff.

The search really had nothing to do with his death, though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: sigh

Isn't there a saying that goes something like: Evil comes from the best intentions.

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Re: sigh

>I wish there was something like tvtropes.org for real-world social tropes which repeat but people just don't recognize them.

Many episodes of the Simpsons attempt to condense 'social tropes' (the townsfolk of Springfield forming a mob / the stupidity of the crowd, being recurring examples)... but the message is hidden in the mix with many pop-culture allusions and homages.

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Re: sigh

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

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Re: sigh

What modern technology does allow though is the dissemination of such information at a far greater rate than previously.

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Meh

Re: sigh

Isn't there a saying that goes something like: Evil comes from the best intentions.

so how does that place Google

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Re: sigh

This is actually an amazing idea. I may just have to look into this.

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Re: sigh

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

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Anonymous Coward

Remember

A Pediatrician got beaten up because the crowd thought Pediatrician meant paedophile.

How easy would it be for someone with a grudge to seed your Facebook, twitter or any other account and destroy you life?

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Alert

Re: sigh

That 'modern technology' quip was also true back when TV news allowed pictures to cross the world in seconds.

It was true as radio allowed events to be broadcast around countries in seconds

It was true as newspapers distributed popular and important stories to the public daily

It was true when the telegraph allowed news to be relayed to individuals over a short time

It was even true when the much-vaunted Roman legions and their roads allowed merchants and travellers to go much farther more often than before.

People are people. The tech gets faster, but the witchhunts remain the same.

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Re: sigh

I recall it being;

"The road to Hell is paved with Good intentions"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: public prosecutions...

I believe that the word you want to use is "persecutions".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: People are pricks, aren't they.

Those people are us.

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Stop

I'll get my baseball bat

Crowdsourcing really isn't going to work with an emotive subject like terrorism or murders. It'll just turn into a vigilante mob. It's fine for ancient cartography projects and the wotnot.

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Re: I'll get my baseball bat

I just hope someone at Reddit has learned a lesson for next time something like this happens.

But then again, being a cynical bastard, I highly doubt it.

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Re: I'll get my baseball bat

Crowdsourcing works perfectly well with emotive subject like terrorism or murders.

The problem is that to train a neural net (human or artificial) you need to be able to classify the inputs.

Since in this case nobody knew what the crowd was looking for - it became a "find somebody young/brown/male" system

Which in fairness it was very good at,

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Re: I'll get my baseball bat

Were there mobs? Runs on hardware stores for pitchforks? Any confirmed instances of even would-be gumshoe actually putting foot to pavement in search of Tripathi as result of the accusation?

I'm not asking as to say that citizen action is never wrong, but rather that this kind of action, the armchair analysis, doesn't so much seem to become wrong. Where vigilante mobs seem to happen is where "everybody knows" even beforehand who they think their target is, and are all fired up to *take action*, not all fired up *to critically think about what actually happened*. If anything, I'd expect the opposite effect: vigilante analysis taking some of the pressure away from vigilante action because it's a way to vent the need to DO SOMETHING in a way that's at worst useless. Probably even better than that if the crowd tends to incite people to argue their point rather than run down to the hardware store....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'll get my baseball bat

While I agree that most people are unlikely to get their torches and head for the old mill, I would still be worried about other aspects.

As it says in the article: "his family, [...] began to be deluged with comments and abuse."

The people doing these types of crowdsourcing are probably more likely to take actions online. Harrassing the guy, his family, friends, that guy he met once at a party. But that can still be rather nasty (though not compared to being burned at the stake of course).

There's a reason why we've set up institutions to handle this, and why we've attempted to make it as unbiased as possible. (Insert rich people get off easy comment of your choice here)

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Re: There's a reason why we've set up institutions to handle this

In this day those institutions are as likely to engage in witch hunts as the crowd sourcers are. I'll take the crowd sourcers over the official institutions if for no other reason than the crowd sourcers are subject to public criticism and possible legal reprisals.

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Re: I'll get my baseball bat

a young man with a history of depression gets falsely accused of a highly emotive crime to Americans and ends up being found dead (suicide?) and that is better as they did not go out with pitchforks?

Why do people feel the need to DO SOMETHING when i don't see people volunteering so quickly to help out trawling CCTV for missing persons or mass googling for old folks to find there long lost relative but ZOMGZ TERRORISM TO ARMS!

In the book (and later tv show) "homicide" David Simon mentions that one of the worst things people can do to a murder investigation is to stick a reward for information as it brings out every crazy and crackpot around. These bombings have done exactly the same, from the Reddit amateur sleuths to the usual retarded "that guys not lost his legs he is an actor just like in sandy hook"

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Anonymous Coward

So... he went missing and killed himself and was then wrongly identified as the Boston bomber or he went missing but was still checking his face book then killed himself because he was wrongly identified as the Boston bomber?

I'm pretty sure the 15th of March was before the Boston bombing.

Or is it that ignorant people got the wrong idea and started harrasing the family?

I don't know what I'm particularly supposed to be interested in... Crowd sourcing named wrong suspect and stupid people took it as gospel? As if the official media/law enforcement/etc and their mindless followers aren't guilty of the same thing at times.

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not sure but

Based on the body needing to be identified by dental due to decomposition my guess is he was dead for weeks before the Boston bombing ever happened.

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Boffin

Re: not sure but

Bodies on land are 60% consumed by maggots within 7 days (http://science.howstuffworks.com/body-farm1.htm).

Bodies in water only take half the time to decompose.

So - within 3 1/2 days the body would have been unidentifiable without dental records or some other form of ID.

Clearly, the death could have happened after the bombing.

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Re: not sure but

Ok yes that is true in the best case scenario but considering how many ancient corpses we have found largely intact, conditions obviously vary and greatly affect the rate of decomposition.

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Re: not sure but

Umm, no, @Andy Prough, decomposition in water does NOT happen twice as fast; its more complicated than that. Look at this: http://www.dundee.ac.uk/forensicmedicine/notes/water.pdf (specifically page 11), which notes that if the water temperature is consistently below 45F/7C there may be no appreciable decomposition for weeks (and incidentally water slows the process, not accelerates it).

Elsewhere, we find that the water temperature in the bay around Providence tends to "warm rapidly" beginning in April (see e.g. http://omp.gso.uri.edu/ompweb/doee/science/physical/cycle1.htm), so it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that the water temperature in the Providence River may have been below 7C up until quite recently, and as the water warmed, so decay accelerated, resulting the body coming to the surface and being found.

I think it perfectly reasonable to consider what might have happened had death occurred after the attacks, but Occam's Razor would suggest that someone unaccountably disappearing for several weeks, then accidentally dieing and be found is less satisfactory an answer compared to the individual falling into the river and remaining submerged until the water temperature rises enough to start decomposition ("foul play is not suspected" suggests accident, not suicide or homicide).

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Re: not sure but

Nice post. Just a comment on your last line: I don't think suicide would be considered foul play.

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If Sunil *was* dead before the date of the bombing, then the Reddit mob identified the wrong person ... a major discrediting of the whole effort either way.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: not sure but

I'll add forensic pathologist to the list of things that people commenting at The Register know more about than the specialists then...

As it happens, without any other form of ID, dental records are your first port of call, decomposed or not.

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Re: don't think suicide would be considered foul play.

That was going to be my minor nit with his post.

Also, given what the family has been through, leaving it at "no foul play is suspected" would be showing a modicum of respect to his family if suicide were suspected. Their wounds have been rolled in enough salt already this week.

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Re: dental records are your first port of call,

No, photographs are the first port of call, particularly given an active missing person investigation. Dental records need somewhere from which records can be pulled. Maybe the UK has a central db for dental records (although I doubt it), the US does not. That they had to go to the records means the body probably was badly decayed.

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Re: dental records are your first port of call,

Facial photographs would be the first port of call in a recently deceased body, but not in a drowning or immersion as bloating of the cutaneous tissues removes most visual features. If someone has been declared missing (as in this case) then dental records would be readily available after the initial match had been made by sex and body characteristics (height and weight estimates are very quick even on partially consumed bodies) and dental records would be the quickest confirmation.

I still doubt that the bombing had any connection with this poor young man's death, but as jumping to conclusions on little evidence is the theme of this thread I think we should avoid doing that.

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Re: not sure but

("foul play is not suspected" suggests accident, not suicide or homicide).

Actually, foul play is not suspected is standard newsreader code for suicide, as the suspected cause of death.

Respect for surviving family members feelings is the reason given for the reluctance to state the shameful truth.

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Unhappy

RIP Sunil Tripathi.

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My thoughts go out to his family. Their statement is calm and loving, so unlike the usual vengeful outpourings we often hear. The world would be better with more people like them.

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Several...

"Several users, twitter users, and other sources had heard him identified as the suspect and believed it to be confirmed. We were mistaken."

Several sources all confirming because they heard the same original source, is hardly conformation is it? It's just repeating.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Several...

Your typo hits the nail on the head. There was no confirmation going on, only pure conformation...

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Headmaster

Re: Several...

> Several sources all confirming because they heard the same original source, is hardly conformation is it?

Conformation is exactly what it is, repeating the same tweetbleat.

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Coat

Re: Several...

It definitely is conformation that was going on. Just repeating the same stuff, slightly different.

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Bah!

I think what the reddit fiasco shows most clearly that crowdsourcing is piss-poor at processing information as emotional response and opinion swamp the data.

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WTF?

Better left to the authorities

... Because they never fuck up do they.

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Re: Better left to the authorities

No, they just fuck up less.

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Re: Better left to the authorities

i dont really follow stuff like this, but if he was killed as a result of this, every single people responsible should be held accountable for murder, or conspiracy to murder. and sentenced accordingly.

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Re: Better left to the authorities

They screw up all the time, but unlike vigilantes they are accountable for their actions.

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Re: Better left to the authorities

They screw up all the time, but unlike vigilantes they are accountable for their actions. …… cheveron Posted Thursday 25th April 2013 22:32 GMT

Accountable to whom and/or what, and in expectation of what possible sanction for screwing up all the time, cheveron?

And when things get just too bad and sad and mad, would Vigilant Phorms of CyberIntelAIgent Security and Virtual Protection Move On In to Global Operating Device Command for Control with SMARTR Virtual Machines and Androgynous Robots/Android Mobes with HyperRadioProActive Meme Genes.

amfM BetaTesting Quantum Communication Control System Command Lines, El Reg ....... nothing to really worry about at all whenever everything is kept truly virtual with total honesty for the Singularity resultant in Full Disclosure ..... for then is one not burdened with the weighty chains that are past secrets too few have enjoyed and too many know absolutely nothing about what IT can do, and what IT is currently doing right now for the future, for you and yours, with every help available with a little help from our friends and bodily delicious soul mates.

Well, what else do you expect? There are always perks to keep bright sparks and animal instincts on the straight and narrow in whatever confection of passionate interest be the collective norm for sharing pleasures treasures ...... and, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

And as for such as an all work and no play Jill? Is a right bitch, par for the course? I suppose the only true answer to those questions rests with the ladies who know them and themselves really well.

It is a strange choice to make though, dull boy or right bitch, whenever from angel to zephyr are always available for firing up and launching at hot targets/susceptible subjects/dodgy systems and collapsed administrations.

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Re: Better left to the authorities

He wasn't killed as a result of this. Sadly he was dead long before the bombs went off. So there's no reason to go off on a similarly misguided vendetta.

That doesn't mean people shouldn't take caution after reading about this. Had he been alive he very well could have been killed over it. Or assuming he was clinically depressed, it might have been enough to cause him to commit suicide.

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Re: Better left to the authorities

Accountable to whom and/or what, and in expectation of what possible sanction for screwing up all the time, cheveron?

In the UK, at least, the police are regulated by the IPCC. Individual officers are subject to the same laws as the rest of us, and have to wear their numbers on their shoulders for identification purposes whilst on duty. Apart from having to wear a uniform that pretty much comprehensively identifies them as police.

Armed police also have to warn people clearly before opening fire, and face an enquiry if they do so.

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Re: Better left to the authorities

right, like they were for Fast and Furious, or Waco, or Ruby Ridge, or that poor family in northeastern Pennsylvania that served years in prison for child sexual abuse before it turned out the kids had been coached by the DA.

In fact, in recent memory the only official I can think of who has been held accountable for his vigilante style rush to judgement was the DA in the Duke lacrosse case.

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