By Tim Jimenez
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Authorities in Philadelphia are looking into an account used to identify and intimidate witnesses on a popular social media site.
The account was “Rats215” on Instagram. No longer active, it was created to quote, “expose rats”. Pictures were posted, along with witness testimony and police statements.
It’s the “stop snitching” culture that has made its way from neighborhoods to the internet according to Dr. Rick Frei, associate professor of psychology at Community College of Philadelphia. Dr. Frei has been lead researcher of “The Snitching Project” which, since 2007, has been examining the topic.
“It used to be, if I thought someone had cooperated with police I might take a picture of them and then put it on a couple of telephone polls in the neighborhood,” Frei said. “Now, I can post a picture and have 20,000 people actually look at it.
Frei says this Instagram account is only one example of ways people are using social media for witness intimidation.
“More people are using websites like whosarat.com, individual Facebook pages and even places like Youtube to go and post videos about people who have cooperated with police and exposing them to other people,” he said.
Frei says this is very difficult to police because one account may be taken down, but others will still pop up.
“It was called “Rat215” I’m sure tomorrow it will be “Rat610″ or something else,” he said.
The DA’s office would not comment specifically on this particular situation but spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson released a statement that read in part:
“We work with Philadelphia Police to investigate vigorously and thoroughly any attempt to intimidate any witness, to identify perpetrators and where appropriate, arrest and prosecute. Unfortunately witness intimidation continues to be a very serious, ongoing problem in the city of Philadelphia. We know that witness intimidation happens every single day at the (Criminal Justice Center).”