In one of the more major media failings in a long line of media failings last week, Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, who'd been missing since March 16, was widely identified as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. Though the origins of the rumor are difficult to pin down, it appears as if the speculation about Tripathi's involvement in the attack began on Reddit before making the leap to Twitter, various news outlets (including this one), and even, reportedly, police scanners. In the chaos that ensued, Tripathi's family members were inundated with dozens of phone calls from reporters—his sister got nearly 60—and were forced to take down a Facebook page dedicated to finding Tripathi after it became littered with "hateful, angry posts." This morning, a body pulled from the Providence River was officially identified as Sunil Tripathi's, finally putting to rest the rumor mill that had made his family's life hell last week. No foul play is suspected in his death.
On Monday, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin issued an official apology for Reddit's role in the Tripathi "witch hunt," writing, "[S]ome of the activity on reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties. The reddit staff and the millions of people on reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened."
It was an important apology to make, but it also gave no indication as to how future witch hunts would be prevented.