In the good old days, a witch hunt involved complex stuff like a media circus, false police reports and maybe a burning pitchfork or two. Nowadays all you need is an internet connection and a hatred of justice. Yeah, for all its obvious uses, it turns out the internet and social media are really, really good at ruining lives. Here are ten people who were mercilessly hounded for the crime of doing nothing at all:
10. The Irish Fare Dodger
When Eoin McKeogh logged onto Facebook to find angry posts berating him for skipping out on a Dublin taxi fare, he was kinda surprised: mainly because he was living in Japan. Digging deeper, he discovered a YouTube video of a young man leaving an Irish taxi with a question along the lines of ‘do you know this thief?’ posted below. In response, one user had simply written ‘Eoin McKeogh’. It was enough to start an Irish social-media storm. Over the next few days, Eoin’s Facebook page became a focal point for irate taxi drivers, people who’d ever been cheated and the usual mob baying for his blood. Eventually, things got so bad that Eoin was forced to fly home from Japan and take YouTube to court (LINK 1) to have the video removed.
9. Framed for Murder
In 2011, a drunk got in a fight onboard a Vancouver bus and wound up stabbing teenager Jamie Kehoe through the neck, before fleeing into the night. Ever-ready to stand up for the underdog, Canada’s netziens took to social media… and promptly named the wrong guy. Garnet Ford was a young roofer living far from the crime scene, who never caught public transport and was home the night of the incident. However, he did have one thing in common with Kehoe’s killer: he was black. According to Ford (LINK 2), that was enough to nearly destroy his life. He was dropped from his job, sent death threats and even suspected by his friends. Eventually, the truth came out, but not before Canadian social media proved itself at least as crazy as its US counterpart.
8. Two Random Victims
Linsey Attridge really didn’t want her boyfriend to break up with her. In fact, she was so set against it that she staged her own mock-rape (LINK 3) to get his sympathy. And it worked. Nick Smith came back home, looked after her and stood by her as she bravely uncovered photographs of her two assailants on Facebook and reported them to the police. Only, it later transpired that they hadn’t raped her at all. In fact, they hadn’t done anything: Attridge had chosen two completely random people off Facebook and accused them of raping and torturing her. Oh, and the age of her victims? One of them was only fourteen (LINK 4). To say his life was ruined would be putting it mildly: Attridge kept up her pretence for two whole months before finally confessing – at which point the hilariously-callous judge sentenced her to a ‘backbreaking’ 200 hours of community service.
7. The Dad Accused of Paedophilia
Let’s be honest: while it’s no walk in the park being accused of murder or rape, nothing compares in the accusation-stakes to paedophilia. So when Steven Rudderham was targeted by an anonymous Facebook campaign (LINK 5) claiming he molested kids, he knew things would end badly. What he probably didn’t realise was just how badly: death threats came pouring in, local scumbags threatened to burn his house down at night and the whole town turned on him. In the end, things got so bad that Rudderham decided to bow out – and hanged himself in a nearby cemetery. Worst of all, those Facebook rumours turned out to be just that: rumors without a grain of truth in them.
6. Targeted by Lynch Mob
The Kensington Strangler (LINK 6) was a psychopath who stalked Philadelphia in 2010, murdering three prostitutes. Triz Jefferies, meanwhile, was a 23 year old nobody who happened to live in the area of the killings. And then someone decided he was might be the murderer, at which point Jefferies went from being a ‘nobody’ to a very-scared somebody.
A Facebook page dedicated to capturing the murderer had Jefferies’ photograph and home address uploaded onto it. Within hours, an angry lynch mob had formed outside his house, with the express intention of murdering his innocent ass. Jefferies was forced to flee, even as the police appealed for calm and reiterated that he wasn’t and never had been a suspect. So who uploaded the photo in the first place? We’ll probably never know.
5. The Stanford Mix-up
In 2010, a story blew-up about South Korean rapper Daniel Lee. In brief, it accused him of faking his 2002 degree from Stanford University – right at a time when the nation was reeling from a series of fake-degree scandals. Ultimately, Lee was proven innocent, but not before his persecution had an unexpected side effect (LINK 7).
See, South Korean social media got hold of the story and determined to prove Lee was lying. As part of this, they delved into his past, even going so far as to speculate he had stolen someone else’s identity. So when another Daniel Lee surfaced who had graduated from Stanford in 2002, the internet went into meltdown. Suddenly, this Wisconsin-based mechanic found himself on the receiving end of a concentrated beam of hatred from South Koreans determined to prove he’d sold his identity to an award-winning rap star (no, I can’t believe I just wrote that either). Emails, phone calls, off-kilter Facebook messages – Lee received the works, and no-one would believe him when he said it wasn’t true. Think about that for a second: imagine having a whole bunch of people you’ve never met before publically decide you’re not who you claim you are and try to debunk you. It must’ve been surreal, to say the least. But even this slice of weirdness has nothing on…
4. Accused of Sandy Hook
Imagine the scene: you’re sitting at your desk, casually getting on with a day’s work when suddenly Facebook explodes in your face. Out of nowhere, millions of people – millions – are accusing you of perpetrating one of the worst mass-murders in US history. Sounds crazy, right? There’s no way such a thing could possibly happen.
Well, it can and it did (LINK 8): to Ryan Lanza, brother of Sandy Hook shooter Adam. Unfortunately, the press leaked that Ryan’s ID had been found at the scene of the massacre, with the result that the internet went into overdrive. For hours, Ryan was literally the most-hated man in the entire world; fending off abusive comments and threats from people who knew the shooter was already dead. Chew on that: these idiots knew the shooter had ended his life at the scene; yet continued to talk to the person they thought was the shooter on Facebook. Man, I get they were outraged, but that’s no excuse for their utter dumbassery.
3. Accuse the Abused
Let’s imagine you knew someone who had had a hard life. You knew they’d been abused as a child and suffered the sort of problems we shouldn’t even joke about. Let’s say you knew all this and wanted to destroy their life in the nastiest way imaginable; what would you do?
If you said ‘set up a fake Facebook profile accusing them of being a child abuser’, congratulations: you’re an awful human being. Earlier this year, Toledo resident Chad Lesko had his life turned upside down when his Ex labelled him a wanted rapist and child abuser in a post shared 30,000 times. Worst of all, the Toledo police apparently now get all their information from social media: since Chad was arrested twice by cops who had seen the page and assumed he was on the run. As acts go, accusing the abused father of your son of child-abuse is pretty low; but nothing compared to…
2. The Twitter Lynch Mob
In Britain, a recent sex-abuse scandal put the establishment on edge. After failing to detect a serial child abuser in their midst for five decades, the BBC rushed to out another suspected peado. Sadly, their source was compromised. At the last minute, bosses decided not to go ahead with the naming; only for Twitter to pick up the slack instead.
Overnight, the name Lord McAlpine became one of the site’s top trending topics. TV stars named him as an abuser. Journalists named him. Freakin’ politician’s wives named him. And guess what? They were all completely wrong: McAlpine had never touched a kid. In fact, he’d never even been to the site of the alleged abuse – something the BBC ‘source’ later admitted. Basically, the entire Twittersphere descended on this one pensioner and proceeded to kick the crap out of his reputation, based on… nothing. Just mindless, dumb innuendo.
1. The Wrong Boston Bomber
I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining what Reddit is, or what the Boston Bombings were. If you’re capable of logging onto a computer and accessing this website, you already know. So you’re probably aware of the story of Sunil Tripathi; but it’s so singularly depressing that it bears repeating.
In the aftermath of the Boston Bombing, Reddit decided it was going to track down the killer(s) single-handedly. Now, the internet is useful for many things, but tracking mass-murderers isn’t one of them. Hence the Redditors who stumbled across a Facebook page set up to find the missing Tripathi and, inexplicably, decided he’d vanished to plot a lethal terrorist attack. Thanks to his ‘foreign’ name, Tripathi’s reputation was dragged through the mud, his family slandered and all for nothing. The Feds found Tsarnaev and Tripathi’s body surfaced a month later – no thanks to a bunch of wannabee detectives. So yeah, the internet has its uses, it’s just a shame that one of them has to be ‘ruining lives’.
You can send Morris M. your helpful and less than helpful comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org