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Saturday
Nov092013

Anonymous Instagram Account Rats Out 'Rats'

LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images(PHILADELPHIA) -- In a world where social media has taken over, one anonymous Instagram account has taken it upon itself to expose the identities of more than 30 crime witnesses in Philadelphia.

Rats215 aims to "expose rats." "For months it has been identifying witnesses of violent crimes across the city," reported Philly.com, and has "thousands" of followers.

The Instagram account, with more than 150 photos,  is updated with a new post every day, according to Philly.com, and each post gets more than a dozen hits in likes and comments. And some commenters want more ratting. One wrote in September, "Post some new rats. … I need to put a hit out on them."

Philadelphia learned of the Instagram account, which appears to have been taken down, last week when a 12th District police officer spotted photos of a witness and court records from a 2012 attempted shooting.

"Witness intimidation is an epidemic in Philadelphia, not just violent crime," Tasha Jamerson, director of communications at the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, told ABC News. "It happens every single day in Philadelphia, and we are working with law enforcement and judges very closely every day to stop it."

The Philadelphia Police Department said it was working with the District Attorney's Office to investigate Rats215. "Witness intimidation, whether direct or indirect, is something that can't be allowed, and therefore we will do what we have to do to hold people accountable for these actions," said Police Lt. John Stanford.

Witness statements are sometimes made public by the court after a case is closed, but witness identities are always kept secret for the individual's protection, said the DA's office.

According to Philly.com, in copies of statements posted on the account, witness names appeared repeatedly, sometimes even with the witness's photograph attached.

Charges against the owner of the account have not been filed, according to the District Attorney's Office.

"Instagram has a clear set of community guidelines which make it clear what is and isn't allowed, a spokesperson for Instagram told ABC News. "This includes prohibiting content that bullies or harasses," the spokesperson said. Instagram also emphasized the importance of using the "report" function. "We encourage people who come across content that they believe violates our terms to report it to us using the built-in reporting tools next to every photo or video on Instagram."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio