Amateur Detectives, Journalists and Police


Sunil Tripathi

This young man is called Sunil Tripathi and he is innocent. He did not have anything to do with the Boston Marathon Bombings. He has been at the centre of a game being dubbed “The Racist Where’s Wally” because he was “identified” by online groups as being in the vicinity, carrying a bag and wasn’t white. He became a trend on Twitter and groups on Reddit and Facebook were set up to find him. Sunil is not the only victim as many non-white pedestrians from the news footage were pounced upon by our digital Poirots and then using the same social networks would track down the people and leave threatening messages on their pages.

While I understand the hysteria, panic and anger is this really the America we want? And is it just America? No, how many people saw the “man on the roof” photo on Facebook, or even forwarded it or commented on it? We now live in a society that is so used to interactive media that we don’t seem to realise that these things are real and effecting real anymore. When you are shown countless pictures of the explosions are you watching TV or “Die Hard 3”? is this “24” or 24 hour news?

And the rolling news has a lot to answer for too. The amount of speculation surrounding the events in Boston were scary as each channel tried to get the latest exclusive information – many using social media and the output of the official news and authority as their sources. Why is the news that is informing us now asking us to provide their information. Via Skype one of the Student at Boston University was showing us all the bullet marks in a gonzo style film; Phone cameras brought us most of the images from the initial blast; tweets and emails are now treated as sources rather than opinions. At one point CNN actually falsely claimed that a suspect was in custody because of this lax approach to journalism. The effect that this must have on the families involved is unthinkable and the problems the authorities have to then keep order if it’s being broadcast that things are safe again.

This happened last night when because of the press interest in the story the police held yet another press conference and told everyone that the Watertown area was safe and clear before the checking had been completed. twenty minutes later they are trying to cordon areas off again. We need to get the balance between news and opinion correct. Sunil’s family must be devastated by this accusation – but then so are the actual suspect’s family as they try to come to terms with the news their sons and nephews may be involved with a camera and boom mic in their faces.

Even when it is a story of national or international importance we, the public, need one thing – facts. We don’t need opinion or hearsay or rumour, just facts. And as the public we have to allow the authorities to do the job they are trained and paid for. If there was a genuine lead or piece of information it’s not case to go online and make accusations and point fingers, phone or contact the relevant authority involved rather than rushing towards the Smartphones or TV Cameras to blurt out unconsidered opinions and conjecture.


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