Reddit regrets role in 'online witch hunt' for misidentified suspect

General manager apologizes for link-sharing site's "dangerous speculation" in the days following the Boston Marathon bombing.

Reddit General Manager Erik Martin used the company's blog to publicly apologize for the site's role in fueling an "online witch hunt" for Sunil Tripathi, a missing Brown University student falsely identified as a possible suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.

"The Reddit staff and the millions of people on Reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened," Martin said. "We have apologized privately to the family of missing college student Sunil Tripathi, as have various users and moderators. We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure."

Last week, prior to the FBI naming Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the primary suspects in the bombing, members of the link-sharing site set out to crowdsource the identities of the people behind the attack. Their vigilante efforts turned counterproductive when Tripathi's name was picked up by those monitoring police scanners. The site helped spread the misinformation, and became "one of the more ugly and disgusting places that had a lot of traffic," Tripathi's sister told ABC News.

In his post, Martin wrote that Reddit enacted a no-personal-information policy a few years back to avoid this very situation.

"We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt. We were wrong," he said. "The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive Internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different."

Though apologetic, Martin also characterized Reddit's role in the aftermath of the Boston bombings as a place for information, discussion, coping, and goodwill. The week, he said, showed "the best and worst" of Reddit's potential. Reddit traffic peaked at 272,000 users when it was reported that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, he said.

About the author

Jennifer Van Grove covers the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.

 

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