A good deal of the false Sandy information circulating on social media originated with one user: Twitter's @comfortablysmug. Now that his identity has been made public, he's being pilloried on the Internet.
While people tried to make sense of a deluge of incoming Sandy news, they might have heard CNN report that the floor of the New York Stock Exchange was flooded three feet deep. Maybe they read a Reuters brief about Con Edison employees being trapped in a power station. Maybe they scrolled past a panic-stricken all caps retweet announcing a preemptive power shut down throughout Manhattan. None of those reports were correct, and they can all be traced back to Comfortably Smug's anonymous account, cultivated around the persona of a cocky, Romney-supporting 1-percenter.
It turns out that the real person behind the handle closely matches that description. Matching Comfortably Smug's Twitpics with his Youtube account, Buzzfeed's Jack Stuef outted him as Shashank Tripathi, a New York City hedge-fund analyst who also manages Republican Christopher R. Wight's campaign for the House of Representatives. His name is listed on the website for a Romney volunteer event.
After the outing, he's being called a "narcissistic sociopath," a "scumbag," and a "Twitter villain" all over the Internet. He's being discussed in the same breath as Reddit's loathsome "creepy uncle" Violentacrez, the user who curated rape and pedophile-themed subreddits and who was recently outed by Gawker's Adrien Chen as Michael Brutsch. Some even wondered whether Tripathi, given the impact of his misinformation, could lay claim to the dubious title of Twitter's biggest troll:
Is @comfortablysmug the biggest Internet troll of all time?— Amy Z. Quinn (@AmyZQuinn) October 30, 2012
What made following Comfortably Smug so confusing during the storm was how Tripathi mixed fact with fiction, topping everything off with a generous helping of immature humor. For every one of his bogus Sandy tweets, he wrote one that was perfectly accurate. He even retweeted official denials of the rumors he hatched, perversely admitting that he was just making stuff up.
Even without a verified identity, Comfortably Smug built an impressive list of over 6,000 followers, some of whom work for outlets like Reuters, NPR, and The Daily Beast. Some Twitter heavyweights circulated his misinformation, meaning journalists had to divert time and effort to dispelling Tripathi's lies—time they could've spent gathering more helpful, accurate information for readers caught in the storm.
Tripathi's Internet infamy extends back long before Sandy. He was a prolific commenter on New York's websites, and wrote a "sex diary" for them in 2008. The following year, the magazine interviewed him about it—on deep cover, of course. Apparently, Tripathi only likes this kind of attention when he's behind a shield of anonymity. Comfortably Smug's account has been silent since he was outed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.