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Reddit publicly apologizes 'for the pain' caused to family of falsely accused student

Sunil Tripathi and his mother, Judy Tripathi.
Sunil Tripathi and his mother, Judy Tripathi.Courtesy of the Tripathi family

The family of Sunil Tripathi endured much emotional pain as speculation swirled that the still-missing Brown University student was a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. Users of the Reddit social news site fanned the flames — and now they, along with the site's leadership, are apologizing to Tripathi's family.

"We have apologized privately to the family of missing college student Sunil Tripathi, as have various users and moderators," Erik Martin, Reddit's general manager, wrote in a blog post on Monday. He continued:

We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure. We hope that this painful event will be channeled into something positive and the increased awareness will lead to Sunil's quick and safe return home. We encourage everyone to join and show your support to the Tripathi family and their search.

Martin noted that while "some of the activity on Reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties," the crowd-sleuthing began "with noble intentions."

He also pointed out that the importance of Reddit's long-standing policy "to not allow personal information on [the] site" was emphasized in this situation. "We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt," Martin writes. "We were wrong. The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive Internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different."

Reddit users weren't alone in spreading false accusations about Tripathi. On Twitter, various high-followeraccountstweeted that police scanners identified Tripathi as a suspect. Around the same time, Facebook users posted accusations on a page set up to help locate the missing student.

Shortly after 2 a.m. ET on Friday, NBC News, via correspondent Pete Williams, reported on Twitter that "speculation that one of the bombing suspects is a missing student is not correct," citing law enforcement sources. By Friday afternoon, Martin quietly sent an initial apology to the Tripathi family via email. The family shared this email with NBC News at the time.

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