Sandy Twitter Troll Identified

Buzzfeed identified Shashank Tripathi as the man behind @ComfortablySmugs false tweets about Hurricane Sandy.

Twitter

A Twitter troll who started widely spread rumors about Hurricane Sandy has been identified as Shashank Tripathi, according to reports.

Buzzfeed identified Tripathi as the man behind @ComfortablySmug's false tweets about events duing Sandy. Among them were that the New York Stock Exchange was flooded and that ConEdison was preemptively shutting down power in all of Manhattan.

According to Buzzfeed, Tripathi is a hedge-fund analyst and the campaign manager for Christopher R. Wight, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House from New York's 12th congressional district.

A vocal supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Tripathi sent a number of alarmist tweets during the storm on Monday.

"BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water," read one.

"BREAKING: CON EDISON SHUTTING OFF ALL POWER IN NEW YORK CITY AT 3AM IN ANTICIPATION OF POWER SURGES FROM HURRICANE SANDY," read another in all capital letters.

Buzzfeed has a comprehensive roundup of the false tweets here.

According to FEC documents, Buzzfeed reports, Wight has paid 29-year-old Tripathi thousands of dollars this election cycle to serve as a consultant on his campaign.

Wight's office did not respond to repeated phone calls. Tripathi did not respond to phone calls or email messages requesting comment.

Wight's opponent, Democrat Carolyn Maloney, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Tripathi's Twitter trolling gained him widespread media attention.

While many non-media Twitter users retweeted Tripathi's comments, Forbes notes that many media outlets, including CNN and the Weather Channel, also took the tweets as fact in their haste to report the effects of Sandy.

"[Ma]ny Tweeps and journalists desperate for new information about the storm took him at his 140 characters. Given the likelihood that a tweet will be encountered without context, subtle satire does not play well during a disaster. Some of the journalists taken in by him are now eager to crucify him," writes Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill.

And Tripathi isn't the only Twitter troll who has garnered undeserved attention. Poynter has a roundup of other Twitter accounts that have fooled journalists recently.

Twitter users immediately countered Tripathi's false statements with, among other things, photos of an un-flooded NYSE, and media outlets eventually recognized that his reports were erroneous. But it should never have gone that far. If widespread events such as Hurricane Sandy demonstrate anything, it's that the need for fact-checking is greater than ever, especially in a 24/7 media cycle where the temptation to take potentially false information at face valuable is so alluring.

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