Quite why Shashank Tripathi – tweeting under the name ComfortablySmug – felt the need to spread misinformation about a harrowing event (during the event) where people are losing their possessions, their homes, and in some cases their lives, is a question only he can answer, but at the time of writing the hedge fund analyst, who was up until today also campaign manager for Republican congressional candidate Christopher Wight, has issued only an apology for his actions.
“I wish to offer the people of New York a sincere, humble and unconditional apology,” Tripathi wrote. “During a natural disaster that threatened the entire city, I made a series of irresponsible and inaccurate tweets. While some would use the anonymity and instant feedback of social media as an excuse, I take full responsibility for my actions. I deeply regret any distress or harm they may have caused.”
At a time when many New Yorkers – along with millions of others on the East Coast – were wondering if their home was about to be blown away, flooded or reduced to ashes, Tripathi added to the confusion of the rapidly unfolding events with tweets such as, “BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under 3 feet of water,” and “BREAKING: Con Edison has begun shutting down ALL power in Manhattan.”
With a number of journalists among his 6,000 followers, many of his tweets were mistakenly picked up by news outlets and broadcast around the world. But perhaps more importantly, with others retweeting his misleading messages in good faith, anxious people in the affected areas looking for accurate up-to-date news via the microblogging site will have been subjected to little more than time-wasting and confusing information – information which then had to be refuted by businesses that no doubt had enough on their plate at the time.
So incensed was BuzzFeed’s Jack Stuef by ComfortablySmug’s fake tweets that he took it upon himself to track down the perpetrator. Calling him “Hurricane Sandy’s worst Twitter villain,” Stuef claims to have discovered the true identity of ComfortablySmug through censored photos on his Twitter feed which he found uncensored elsewhere. Tripathi’s apology soon followed, along with the announcement that he was stepping down as Wight’s campaign manager.
Few will argue with the notion that social media can be a source of huge help and reassurance during a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, but as this episode shows, we still have to be able to sort the truth from the lies. The shaming of Tripathi has hopefully put an end to the online dissemination of the future falsehoods of at least one clown.
[Image: Ch4 News]