Alex Jones (Infowars) and Sunil Tripathi

This is not something I plan to cover at length or on an ongoing basis. This is not something I want people to get into a big fight over in comments, hence comments are off. It’s just something I noticed after a few discussions with a friend. I wanted to make a record of Alex Jones’ dealing with the Sunil Tripathi story here, primarily because I don’t think there’ll be a record of it anywhere else.

I think Alex Jones and his website, Infowars, is deceptive to the point of being outright dangerous. As a web publisher, I’m interested in how he and his team weave their stories. What are their publishing standards? Sadly, I’d say they’re either non-existant or based on ‘whatever creates the most fear’.

For me, the saddest story from the Boston Marathon bombing – aside from the obvious – is that of Sunil Tripathi. He was the university student who went missing back in March who was mistakenly named as a suspect in the bombing prior to the actual perpetrators being identified. The amateur sleuthing that led to Tripathi being named was mostly conducted on social sharing websites 4Chan and Reddit.

Infowars took great delight in the online identification of Tripathi. For them, it meant that someone other than the authorities (i.e. their kind of people) had done the job quicker than either the police or the mainstream media.

Infowars shared their delight, giving the cops, the feds and the media a good poke in the eye in an article titled Sunil-Tripathi: 4chan beats out FBI, news-media in identifying Boston bombing suspect.

As news reports come in identifying FBI Boston Marathon suspect as missing student Sunil Tripathi, it becomes clear that major community-driven internet boards like 4Chan are actually light years ahead of the mainstream media.

Of course, that story was wrong. Tripathi wasn’t a suspect. The online vigilantes and conspiracy theorists identified the wrong man and put his family – who were already deeply troubled by his disappearance – through an even greater hell for a very short, but intense period. Sadly, Sunil Tripathi’s body was found in water last week near his university. He’d been missing for around six weeks.

The authorities used dental records to identify the body as Mr. Tripathi’s. They did not immediately determine the cause of his death, but said his body had been in the water for some time.

Infowars is a massive site. Their media kit (which is a good hint as to why they really exist) claims 3 million unique visitors a month. When they run a story, a lot of people see it.

So when Infowars furthered the story of Tripathi being the suspect, they identified an innocent man as a terrorist based on no authoritative evidence and they pushed that story out to millions of readers – and they took pleasure in doing so.

When it was made known that everyone had got it wrong, you’d think there might be some concern for the hardship they’d caused. Any site with even the slightest grain of integrity would have stood up, acknowledged and then corrected its error with some sort of apology, right? The head of Reddit apologised, after all. What about Infowars?

Sadly, if you clicked that first link from Infowars to read the full BS story, you ended up on a 404 Error page – “Page Not Found”. Rather than standing up and showing some personal or corporate integrity with an apology, Infowars simply erased the erroneous Sunil Tripathi story from the archive.

Having spent some time in the web publishing business, I figured that might happen, so I took a screenshot when it was still live.

InfowarsSunil

What’s even worse, however, is that they’ve now distanced themselves from the snoopy-dance they did in the first story by placing the blame with 4Chan alone. In the Infowars coverage of Tripathi’s body being found, they write the following:

One of the individuals identified by 4chan users as a possible Boston bombing accomplice has been found dead in the Providence River…..

…..Tripathi’s possible connection to the Boston bombing was first raised by users of the 4chan website when it was pointed out that his image bore a similarity to one of the suspects first named by the FBI who later turned out to be Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev.

Users of the Reddit website later apologized to Tripathi’s family for making the erroneous connection, with one moderator writing, “We cannot begin to know what you’re going through and for that we are truly sorry.”

That’s almost kinda nice. They nearly sound like they’re writing about Tripathi from a caring point of view. But note that they completely neglect to mention their own pushing of Tripathi as a suspect as outlined in the first article, a mistake they made worse when they deleted the article and again when they dumped the blame on everyone else.

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There are rules for evidence in a court of law for a reason. There are professional standards in journalism for a reason. The courts and the media don’t always get things right (especially the media), but I believe in the system. I believe the courts get it right more than they get it wrong and I believe there are still news sources out there that strive for factual reporting based on sound ethics and the substantiation of material.

Infowars? Forget the notion of editorial integrity. Their burden of proof seems to end at working internet connection.

The advent of the internet has been a good thing in some ways and a bad thing in others. The emergence of sites like Infowars is one of the more negative, even toxic aspects of the web. Sadly, I think the fear that Alex Jones and his cohorts peddle on that site – quite deliberately for the purposes of cultivating an audience to sell product to – that relentless fear will one day lead to some paranoid individual going over the edge and doing something terrible as a result.

Of course, they’ll cover it and report it as a ‘false flag’ attack perpetrated by the government in order to restrict your freedoms.

That’s just how they roll.

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