PHILADELPHIA – A teenager posted nonpublic information about a 2012 shooting on his Twitter feed, police said, and that material was later posted to an Instagram account being scrutinized for divulging information about witnesses to crimes in the city.
The 17-year-old was taken into custody after being charged with intimidation and terroristic threats, police spokeswoman Officer Tanya Little said Wednesday.
The charges come as investigators examine how the now-shuttered Instagram account titled “rats215,” a reference to Philadelphia’s area code, came to feature affidavits and photos of victims and witnesses in criminal cases.
Police are investigating whether there is a connection between the two separate social media accounts.
“There was a lot of information there ... a lot of information that was not for public viewing,” Little said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier that the “rats215” Instagram account had posted material identifying more than 30 witnesses since February. The newspaper said the account had nearly 7,900 followers and had more than 150 photos, many drawing dozens of comments and likes.
Little said the investigation, which started Oct. 24, was continuing. Although the teenager is not accused of having owned the Instagram account, “you have to think about ... where did it come from?” she said. “That’s the question that has to be answered.”
Authorities have called witness intimidation a serious problem in Philadelphia, with people arrested daily in the city’s criminal courts building for taking photos of witnesses, victims’ families or judges and posting the images online, said Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.
Law enforcement officials have said they have long seen victim’s statements posted in public places or sent to the home of witnesses, but such material is now winding up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Instagram hasn’t said whether it took down the account. It said community guidelines bar content that bullies or harasses, and that users are encouraged to report it.