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Should Twitter Troll Face Jail Time For Tweeting Lies During An Emergency?

Hurricane Sandy’s effects are still being felt along the East Coast of the United States, with many people turning to Twitter for updates during the storm’s peak.

And despite the many good Samaritans who provided support, updates and help in 140-characters, the top Twitter news story to come out of the storm this week is probably the Twitter troll who misled thousands with his deceptive tweets.

There might just be one man in New York who is reviled above everyone else right now. Shashank Tripathia, a hedge fund analyst and campaign manager for a Republican congressional candidate, was outed as the man behind the @ComfortablySmug Twitter account that posted a series of lies about damage, loss of power, and – most notoriously – the New York Stock Exchange flooding.


This tweet went round the world, so to speak, as major media outlets reported it as fact.

@ComfortableSmug has always been a “friendly troll” as his followers will attest to, so those who knew his persona from before the storm weren’t shocked at what he was tweeting. However, during emergencies Twitter is often used as a lifeline and a real-time newswire, and there were at least 650 Twitter-ers who believed his initial tweet enough to retweet it as news to their followers. After his “BREAKING NEWS” caused a panic and then was debunked, @ComfortablySmug offered an apology on Twitter:

 

Some are calling his pranks out as illegal and worthy of jail time, while others say it is up to the media to check their sources, even in times of crisis.

Using Twitter to spread false information during an emergency is no doubt a despicable act – but is it one that warrants jail time? Or is it a matter of free speech?

Twitter itself has usually erred on the side of giving its users the freedom to tweet what they want, only stepping in to censor in extreme cases of hate speech so far. However, that’s not to say authorities won’t take matters into their own hands and come down on Tripathia.

Do you think someone should be punished for spreading false information on Twitter? Or does Tripathia have a right to troll? Let us know in the comments below.

(Jail image via Shutterstock)

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