Friday, November 2, 2012

Idiot Posts False Sandy News Updates, News Outfits Annoyed

Chaotic disasters like Hurricane Sandy can make it hard to figure out which reports about the catastrophe are true, which aren't.

It didn't help when a New York financial worker and campaign manager for a Republican congressional candidate decided to spread false stories through his Twitter feed, ComfortablySmug

And it didn't help that the guy, identified as Sashank Tripathi,  thought it would be harder for people to unmask hin than he thought.

Happy Halloween, Sashank!
Yes, they did put sandbags in front of the NYSE, but
unlike Tweets the media bit on, it didn't actually flood.

He was Tweeting all these storm updates during the worst of Sandy that the New York Stock Exchange was flooded out, or that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was stranded in New York City.

None of this was true, but he apparently hoped some news outlets would bite and report this stuff. A few actually did.

Um, you can't always believe what you read on the Internet, right?

Tripathi's ComfortablySmug was what The Guardian newspaper described as a friendly troll. He often posted over the top remarks, just to be snarky and fun. Unlike a lot of trolls, he usually didn't aggressively attack people.

Problems started during the storm when some of his Sandy Tweets seemed plausible, like the Stock Exchange flooding. And the rush to be first, and the struggle to get news out, prompted some retweeting, which ended up in places like the Weather Channel.

Which, as the Guardian article points out, shouldn't have happened. A quick check would have shown that ComfortablySmug was unreliable, but this of course is 20/20 hindsight.

Maybe part of the reason why we in the media are mad at ComfortablySmug because some of us got hoodwinked?

Yeah, ComfortablySmug, aka Tripathi, was irresponsible and stupid for Tweeting falsehoods in the middle of a crisis, but this is a lesson for us in the media: Even when things are happening at a breathless pace, does every bit of information have to go out immediately? If it's a life and death situation, maybe. But if the public had to wait five minutes to learn whether it was true the New York Stock Exchange was a giant bathtub, we would have all survived.

Our buddy ComfortablySmug was one of many people to post false images and statements in social media during the superstorm. Especially during a crisis,  they crave attention so intensely that they have to make sure they get it.  There were an incredible number of photoshopped, misleading or photos that had nothing to do with Sandy posted on Facebook and Twitter during and after Sandy.

During disasters, people quite naturally pay attention to storm victims, the news, the destruction. They don't care about some loser Tweeting in his basement. And the loser in the basement resents everybody turning attention away from him.

Well, our guy Sashank sure got attention once Buzzfeed figured out who he was and blabbed it to all of us. 

Once he was unmasked, he apologized, I think mostly because he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He never did explain why he posted false stuff, though.  Maybe  he thought he was committing harmless jokes. That was his M.O, after all, and he probably didn't think to switch tactics when people were in the middle of a disaster.

The whole episode really screwed up his job as a consultant for a Republican congressional candidate though. He resigned from that gig after this came out.

On the bright side, when there is a lot of false stuff swirling around out there, a lot of self appointed fact  checkers go through and tells us which is true, which is not.

So inaccurate information gets out there and spreads far and wide. But if at least if we pay attention, we can get the right story.


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