As the sentencing phase of the Boston Marathon bombing trial nears its conclusion, a new documentary focuses attention on one person who became a victim of a social media witch hunt during the search for the terrorists behind that attack.
Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi had its international premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival. Directed by Neal Broffman, this 75-minute film chronicles the Tripathi family’s trauma as the missing Sunil is misidentified on social media — and that false information picked up by mainstream journalists — as a suspect in the Boston terror attack.
Broffman said in an interview that they “wanted to tell Sunil’s story. Who he was. To reclaim his identity.” Sunil, a 22-year-old musician and student of philosophy at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, had gone missing on March 16, 2013, nearly a month before the Boston bombing of April 15.
After that attack, the FBI released images of the suspects and within hours the Tripathi family was besieged. One person on social media thought he looked like a schoolmate from the past — Sunil. Meanwhile, on the sites, Reddit and Twitter, users went berserk, matching him to FBI images. Sunil’s brother Ravi describes that as a “case study in virtual mob mentality” in the film.
Sunil Tripathi’s body was recovered from the Providence river on April 23; depression had claimed his life. That’s another layer to the film that the makers want to emphasize, that of mental health issues.