As media outlets were trying to gather information about Hurricane Sandy's toll on power to lower Manhattan, a Twitter user named ComfortablySmug with numerous journalists followers started to Tweet bogus information, including tweets about Con Edison shutting down power to all of Manhattan. Buzzfeed notes, "Two of his tweets garnered more than 500 retweets. One drew a rebuke from ConEd’s official Twitter account. Twitter’s self-correction mechanism — rebukes and rebuttals from knowledgeable sources — shut down each rumor, but not until at least one, the flood claim, had bled widely into the television media."
Now, ComfotablySmug has been unmasked—his name is Shashank Tripathi, a hedge fund analyst and the campaign manager for a Republican Congressional candidate in New York (well, until resigning yesterday) —and City Councilman Peter Vallone wants him to pay.
After saying he was "waiting for an apology" from Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski (who had retweeted one of CS's Tweets but then found it was unverified and wrote the first takedown), ComfortablySmug Tweeted, "I wish to offer the people of New York a sincere, humble and unconditional apology" with the following:
But that's not good enough for Councilman Vallone, who hates graffiti and the Ed Koch Bridge: Vallone says he's talking to Manhattan DA Cy Vance about criminal charges. Vallone, who is a former DA, told Buzzfeed, "I'm glad he apologized," but "I think the consideration of criminal charges will assure this kind of stuff doesn't happen again."
...he conceded that "it's a very difficult case to make."
Vallone said the DA's office would have to make the case that the tweets were sent deliberately to fool the public with "no legit basis for the tweets themselves." He said it was "easier to prove" tweets sent by Tripathi about Manhattan losing power were more obviously conjured up and not based on other false news reports.
"Everyone know's the example of yelling fire in a crowded movie theater," Vallone said.
"A little bit of truth makes them much more dangerous," Vallone added, saying the nature of the feed having truth mixed with falsehoods made it hard for people to separate lies from fact.
"I hope the fact that I'm asking for criminal charges to be seriously considered will make him much less comfortable and much less smug," Vallone said.
One Internet troll who did get arrested: Gothamist commenter Ladder157 for his threats against Ray Kelly.