We’re all now familiar with people who get themselves in legal trouble on the Internet, but a recent social media account offers a troubling twist on that story: exposing witnesses who testify against accused criminals.
Philly.com reported over the weekend on an Instagram account called "rats215" — which has since been deactivated — that aimed to "expose rats." The account had nearly 8,000 followers and outed more than 30 witnesses since February using photos, statements and other information. In one case, it even somehow got access to evidence from a secret grand jury.
Whoever ran the account also threatened people who testified against accused criminals. Police learned of rats215 last week when an officer monitoring Twitter saw photos online of a witness.
Getting witnesses to testify can be a major challenge in criminal cases, and prosecutors often struggle with how to get people to speak out against sometimes-violent defendants. This development offers yet another way for social media to complicate that process, with social media offering opportunities for those cooperating with police to earn the ire of criminals or their associates. It’s the opposite of what happened recently in Utah, where two men became the subjects of a criminal investigation after posting videos online of themselves pushing over a rock formation.
How exactly police deal with this new development in social media remains to be seen, but if nothing else it shows how it’s increasingly difficult to keep anything a secret in a digital world.
— Jim Dalrymple II
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