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In today’s fast moving world, a phenomenon which can and does overtake us from time to time is misinformation. We had a classic case recently when Sunil Tripathi, a student of Brown University (who by co-incidence has been missing for the last month) was named on the net to be one of the most wanted ” Boston Bombers” who had set off bombs at the end of the famous Boston Marathon earlier this week. This horrible incident had left three dead and over 180 injured.

Apparently his name as well as that of Mike Mulugeta came up from excerpts of talk on the Boston Police scanner. This set off speculation and later world-wide rumours that Mulugeta and Tripathi were wanted as the prime suspects.

We now know that the brothers Tsarnaev,  were the perpetrators of this dastardly crime. In an incident that shocked the nation, the brothers tried to make away and in the process killed a police officer in the campus of the MIT in Cambridge, Ma. In an ensuing gun battle, the elder brother, Tamerlane seems to have got killed. The younger, Dzhokhar, escaped and was tracked down later and apprehended in a seriously wounded condition in Watertown, Ma.

The objective of this post is not to speculate on who these people were and why they did what they did. It is to reflect on how some bit of misinformation must have so wounded the Tripathi family, who were already in shock considering that Sunil, their youngest son had left home on  March 16, never to be found since then till date. This despite a hunt spearheaded by the FBI no less.

Interestingly while the hunt for the perpetrators, who we now know were the Tsarnaev brothers who are of Chechnyan origin was going on, there was so much on Twitter which carried “news” swifter than the new channels themselves. While the media perhaps held back and did not disclose names, even if they knew them, the netizens on Twitter, amongst other social media fora, found it perfectly fine to tweet, re-tweet and comment on tweets really based on unconfirmed and unsubstantiated news.

The Atlantic carries a comprehensive article on this misinformation and the havoc it created .

This has been a lesson for me. It’s far better to hang on and give confirmed news rather than fire away with more misinformation, however noble your intentions might be.