The family of a Brown University student who has been missing since last month are outraged after they were flooded last night with vicious messages because 'internet sleuths' had begun claiming he was one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.
According to the Daily Mail report, users on the social media site Reddit began claiming last night that Sunil Tripathi, 22, was being sought in the attack that killed three people - and later a MIT campus police officer.
The claims were fueled by users who said Tripathi looked similar to surveillance images the FBI released of the marathon bombers.
Then, after the suspects engaged in a raging gun battle with police, Boston officers reportedly began using his name on police scanner traffic. That set off a storm of Twitter speculation.
Vicious posts began flooding Tripathi's Facebook page.The family was forced to take it off line.
'It seems this is just the ugly underbelly of viral social media,' Sunil's sister Sangeeta Tripathi told NBC News.
'But a lot of stir can be created through just a complete accusatory and unsubstantiated effort.'
Sunil, called 'Sunny' by family and friends, went missing from campus on March 16 after abruptly leaving home and leaving his cell phone and wallet behind.
The speculation led Erik Martin, the general manager of Reddit, to send an email 'to apologize personally and on behalf of all our employees for … some of the people on our site's role in the spreading of this false idea about Sunny.'
By 4am, thousands of tweets made reference to Sunil as a bombing suspect.
One tweet that labeled Suntil as 'suspect one' and named a 'Mike Mulugeta' a suspect two was retweeted 3,000 times.
By daybreak, the suspects had been formally named - brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whose family is from the breakaway Russian region of Chechnya.
Sunil has still not be seen since his disappearance. His sister revealed last month that he suffers from depression.