We all have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the terror events of last week in Boston, and I'm going to share some of mine here. If you're looking for comedy, read one of my previous articles, or wait for my next one, which should be coming sometime around the first week of May. I scrapped the premise for that one for the time being after the events. I didn't lose my sense of humor, but something about what happened just made me realize it's a time for something more important.
If you followed the news last week, you either followed the so-called "old" media, such as a cable network or newspaper; the so-called "new" media, such as a message board or non-corporate website; or both. I followed both. Some of the things I saw were unacceptable on both counts. I like to gather as much information so that I can decide for myself without being biased. I may be a "young" person in that highly sought-after 18-35 age demographic, but that doesn't mean I blindly shun established media just because it's established.
Having said that, I understand the merits of renegade sites, like 4Chan and Reddit, not to mention social media sites. The anonymity of posting online provides a cover for some seriously ridiculous postings and actions, but some good has been done as a result of their existence. The events in Boston, however, showcased a lot of the ugliness.
If you don't know, Reddit attempted to aid the FBI in identifying terror suspects. That in itself is a noble goal. After all, the FBI did reach out to the public in an attempt to gather as much information as possible. I would have liked to have seen this done in a more private forum, such as an official FBI message board (if they have an official hotline that nobody has a problem calling, a message board is even easier to set up and monitor). That's not the issue I have, though. The issue is that a group of Redditors became wholly convinced that they were right, the "old media" was wrong, and two men who were found to have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism were unfairly accused.
A Twitter post by a girl who knew a a22-year-old Brown University student named Sunil Tripathi in high school led to rampant speculation that he was a suspect. She thought she recognized him in evidence photos. He has the same hair and eyebrow color as the suspect. I'm not going to say he didn't look anything like who he was mistaken for like some who have jumped to his defense have. The people arguing "Sunil is brown and the real guys were white" are just as off-based as the ones they are accusing of bias. Tripathi is light skinned and has black hair. This isn't a comparison of apples and oranges.
Once again, I don't have a problem with this comparison. I have a problem with the knee-jerk "We're right, they're wrong, we're better than the professionals, whoo hoo!" attitude. The same people who accuse the users of "old" media of being out of touch and behind the times sure jumped to a conclusion that was out of touch and behind the times in my view. Tripathi had nothing to do with any acts of terror.
What did happen though, and a reason he was accused, is because he disappeared March 16th. He left his wallet, identification, cell phone, and a vague note behind in his apartment. He hasn't been seen or heard from since. His family has been frantically searching for any clue as to his whereabouts. I'm sure they would've been thrilled at any kind of help finding him before this, before their desperate hopes turned into a nightmare of accusations and half-truths.
Tripathi had been suffering from depression before he disappeared. He took a leave of absence from Brown University last year. My guess is that he left his things behind and committed suicide. I don't think this theory is terribly off-base, and if it is it's "better" than accusing him of being a terrorist.
I myself feel a personal connection. I'm not going to waste time writing an autobiography of myself, but I will say my history of mental health has been colorful. It absolutely sickens me that somebody in a situation I have found myself in more than once left behind several signs pointing to suicide, and only attracted attention once a former acquaintance mistook him for a terrorist. The "new" media botched this by jumping to conclusions. The "old" media botched this by ignoring facts and trying to catch up with the new media (Tripathi was also accused and photo-ID'd by several "old" media outlets such as Fox News and the New York Daily News). So the next time you try to champion one over the other, please realize that there is no winner in the "battle" between new and old, and in some cases, everybody comes out looking like a loser.
UPDATE: Since this article was written, authorities have told the Boston Globe that it's "very possible" that a body they found in the Providence River on Tuesday is that of Tripathi. Our condolences go out to the family.