Social Media: Getting It First Takes Over Getting It Right
Sunil Tripathi is a missing kid who took leave of Brown University last year because he was struggling with depression. And then for a few hours on Thursday night, he was falsely reported by some of the media as being one of the Boston marathon bombing suspects. Missing since March 16th, his parents must be worried sick about his well being and mental health.
Only 22, Tripathi went missing without his cellphone, ID and wallet. Providence Police Detective Mark Sacco said they have no leads and the search has even involved the FBI. According to NDTV from New Delhi, “In a statement on Facebook his family said, ‘We have known unequivocally all along that neither individual suspected as responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was Tripathi. We are grateful to all of you who have followed us on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit-supporting us over the recent hours.’” (Read statement here)
His parents have set up a Facebook page ‘Help us find Sunil Tripathi’ that drew in more than a million views within the first week of posting. His parents described their son as as “a kind, gentle, and shy young man.”
In today’s instant world of social media, incorrectly reported news can be taken to extremes and one Reddit account chose to leave his post regarding Tripathi up “for posterity” or perhaps to prove a point:
I would, however, like to caution against people now concluding that we should all be internet detectives / vigilantes, etc. Yes – it seems speculators here got it right this time.
There have been plenty of cases in the past (even the recent past) where online communities (reddit included) have gotten it wrong and caused someone innocent a lot of grief… So I hope people aren’t patting themselves on the back too hard over this…
EDIT: It wasn’t him. Reports were false.
Journalist know to say “alleged” or “reputed”–this is a cautionary story that in this real time media culture, outright misinformation can spread in the blink of an eye and harm those and the families of the falsely accused.
The Tripathi’s aren’t alone in worrying about their son and depression. Researchers are saying that depression and anxiety is on the rise with college students. There is a 10% increase of students on psychiatric medicines than there were ten years ago. One study found that one out of five students seeking medical treatment at university health centers for routine colds or sore throats to be “depressed.” Away from home often for the first time and outside of the comfort and protection of family, students may feel isolation and depression sinking in. Many colleges find themselves understaffed and overwhelmed dealing with the numbers of students needing mental health counseling.
How easy will it be for the Tripathi’s to find their son? Roughly 2,300 Americans, both children and adults, are reported missing each day. An article from The Guardian gives great insight as to why people choose to go missing in this previously “mysterious” world. A new life, “breathing space” or just getting away from oppressive families can be some of the reasons. With parents not knowing whether their children are alive or okay, the police suggest to those that don’t want to go back and have made a new life for themselves just to let the parents know they are okay.
For whatever reason Sunil Tripathi went missing, hope remains that he is okay and that this recent troubling false accusation by authorities, the public and the media won’t add insurmountable distress on top of an already distressful situation for the 22 year old.