Instagram user IDs protected Philly witnesses
PHILADELPHIA — An anonymous social media site has been identifying witnesses in violent crimes across Philadelphia with the stated intention of trying to “expose rats,” and city police were trying to find out who is behind it.
The “rats215” account on the photo-sharing site Instagram has posted pictures, police statements and testimony identifying more than 30 witnesses since February, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Police Lt. John Walker said investigators learned of the account last week when an officer monitoring Twitter spotted photos of a witness and court records from an attempted shooting last year. That led to the Instagram account, where officials found witness statements from the alleged 19-year-old victim, who said he was fired upon that summer because he testified in a homicide case.
It remains unclear how rats215 obtained his testimony, the Inquirer reported. The case was handled by a secret indicting grand jury — a practice the Pennsylvania Supreme Court authorized last year to protect witnesses in violent crime prosecutions. The site had names of witnesses, even though the names of witnesses and victims are redacted in court records for their protection.
The account, which was inaccessible by 8 p.m. Thursday, had nearly 7,900 followers and had been updated almost daily, The Inquirer reported. It had contained more than 150 photos, many drawing dozens of comments and likes.
“Post some new rats,” one commenter wrote in September, according to the Inquirer. “I needa put a hit out on them.”
One post praised drug dealer Kaboni Savage, who was sentenced to death for being behind a dozen murders, including a firebombing that killed four children and two women. The bombing was retaliation for an informant's cooperation with authorities and was among the worst witness-revenge killings in city history.
Instagram would not say whether it took down the account, citing a policy of not publicly discussing individual accounts. But a spokeswoman said on Friday that community guidelines do not allow content that bullies or harasses, and she said Instagram encourages people to report such content using a built-in tool next to every photo or video posted on Instagram.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Weather closes Penn State for first time in 8 years
- Wolf to outline charter school plan in budget address
- Husband charged in ax murder of wife hangs himself in cell
- Snow causes roof to collapse at Crawford County plastics plant
- Cochranton farm specializes in growing out-of-season vegetables
- News Alert