This past week, the East Coast was slammed by Hurricane Sandy, a category 1 hurricane that caused widespread flooding and power outages throughout some of the country’s most populous areas and left more than sixty people dead. During the hurricane, one anonymous Twitter account, @ComfortablySmug, was caught red-handed engaged in unspeakably irresponsible behaviour.
This Twitter user was, for reasons known only to himself, spreading false and alarming reports about the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy — everything from reporting that all power was going to be shut down throughout the entire island of Manhattan to Governor Cuomo being trapped in a flooded building to flooding of the New York Stock Exchange — to his over 6000 Twitter followers. (This Tumblr contains screen caps of many of ComfortablySmug’s alarming and false reports.)
The report of the NYSE building flooded was picked up by CNN and re-tweeted (apparently with no additional fact-checking done) for several hours, before it was later recanted by both CNN and refuted by the official NYSE Twitter account. But damage had already been done: this and the rest of ComfortablySmug’s false reports spread rapidly throughout Twitter — some being re-tweeted over 600 times by users believing the reports to be fact — and causing unknown panic and confusion during an already hysterical time.
In the wake of this bizarrely trollish behaviour, Buzzfeed’s Jack Stuef outted ComfortablySmug as Shashank Tripathi, a hedge fund analyst and Republican political consultant working as campaign manager for Republican Christopher Wight’s congressional bid for the 12th district this year. Tripathi may also have served as a volunteer coordinator for the Romney campaign.
Tripathi, who appears to be of Asian Indian descent, offered the following apology on his Twitter account today along with news of his “resignation” from the Wight campaign (which was quick to condemn and repudiate its former campaign manager):
Tripathi offered no explanation for his bizarre behaviour over the last 48 hours, but in truth there was probably no explanation that could be satisfying. Anonymity, assholery, attention-whoring, narcissicm — it may be all of these things and none of these things. In the end, there can be no rational explanation for leveraging one’s Twitter fame to spread false reports that only serve to cause confusion and panic during a natural disaster.
All I know is that Shashank Tripathi, you win today’s award for the worst person in the world. You’re a disgrace to the race.