'Witness-Intimidating' Instagram Disarmed

Oh dear, Philly. An Instagram account in Philadelphia has been disabled after it spent nearly a year identifying witnesses in the state who testified, anonymously, in violent-crime trials. The account @rat215 had more than 7,900 followers, and had identified more than 30 witnesses in nine months via posts leaking more than 150 photos, police statements, and testimony. Police are in trying to track down the 17-year-old they believe is behind the account, and are considering charging him or her with witness intimidation.

To make things worse, the account's popularity wasn't from novelty alone: The likes and comments on @rat215's leaked testimonies were typically in favor of said witnesses not helping the police.

"Post some new rats," one person wrote in September. "I needa put a hit out on them."

Philadelphia authorities came across the account when one of their officers saw photos of a supposedly-anonymous witness, who testified in a 2012 attempted-shooting case, on Twitter. The officer then did a little detective work (literally) and tracked the user back to Instagram. The incident raised a whole lot of red flags because the jury in that case case was a "secret-indicting" one: "secret-indicting" is an extra measure intended to protect witnesses. Worse, the central figure in the case was a 19-year-old who said the attempted shooting had happened because he'd served as a witness.

Authorities are treating the case as one of potential witness intimidation, because the account's geared around the whole premise that these witnesses shouldn't talk to police. That perception is a big issue in inner-city areas, where keeping quiet can be a means of self-preservation. Noted the blog "Post Bourgie:"

No one considers the possibility of violence more than the people for whom violence is a quotidian reality; they think about that shit all the time. This is not some abstraction to them. The decision not to talk to the cops isn’t cosigning grisliness, it's about simple self-preseveration.

The District Attorney's office has so far declined to comment on the case.