By Courtney Ryan and Rebekah Graham
A considerable part of the untruth’s spread during “Superstorm Sandy” on various social media sites was largely due to Twitter user, @ComfortablySmug. The Twitter blogger’s identity was released, revealing his real name to be Shashank Tripathi. Tripathi was, at the time, a hedge fund analyst and campaign manager for candidate Christopher R. Wright, for the House of Representatives.
A series of tweets containing false information began making it’s way through other Twitter uses and was even reported on by national media. The misinformation instilled unwarranted fear in many New York and New Jersey residents. Tripathi began his false statements, starting with “BREAKING.” One of the tweets recounted that the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) had been flooded and another one saying Con Edison, a power company, was planning to shut down all power in Manhattan. Tripathi has over six thousand Twitter followers. Many of his tweets were retweeted hundreds of times.
While some of the information @ComfortablySmug tweeted was true, there was much that was not. For instance, ALL bridges to and from Manhattan were being sealed off. There were bridges shut down because of the storm, but not all. And the subway was going to be shut down for the remainder of the week. This was also not true.
As a Senior Communication major, with a minor in Journalism, I, (Courtney), have written my fair share of articles which were distributed and available to the public. These articles required conducting interviews and quoting the source of my information. Journalism demands truth and accuracy. While I am not much for cliché sayings, Stan Lee wrote in the first Spider Man movie script, “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” The person you are interviewing is giving you a part of himself or herself. They have entrusted their story to you and possibly even their reputation or image. I have come to understand the responsibility that is placed on me every time I interview an individual and relay what they’ve said, whether through direct quotes or summarizing.
Journalists follow the AP Stylebook as their guideline. Twitter, a fairly recent social media site, allows any individual with access to the Internet the opportunity to tweet and be tweeted at. There currently is not an enforced standard that Twitter users must follow when tweeting. With that said, I believe we each need to held accountable to what we say and in this case, write, whether it is for a news article or the popular social media site, Twitter.
What was @ComfortablySmug’s driving motive to pass on false information? Was it for attention? Was it because of anonymity and the feeling of being able to say anything without consequences? Maybe. I don’t know. In the end, his identity being revealed and he relaying a public apology served justice. “I wish to offer the people of New York a sincere, humble and unconditional apology,” his opening statement reads. Let this incident be a warning on the dangers of spreading false information and the importance of taking responsibility and pride in what you write, because who knows who might end up seeing it.