WILMINGTON, Del. -- A posting on the Instagram website that listed names of people purportedly cooperating with law enforcement was removed hours after The News Journal questioned the social network about policy violations.
"Instagram has a clear set of community guidelines which make it clear what is and isn't allowed. This includes prohibiting content that bullies or harasses," an Instagram spokeswoman said. "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."
The Instagram account, which had the username "wilmington_snitches" and was first posted to in December, claimed it had names of people cooperating with law enforcement. There were three posts to the account.
Each post was a picture of a sheet of yellow paper with handwritten names of people and where they lived. There was no explanation about the source of the names.
A picture of rapper Gucci Mane (Radric Davis), who has been accused of snitching by other musicians, was the profile image on the account.
During a Wednesday interview with the Delaware Attorney General's Office on how the agency was working to encourage witnesses to come forward, prosecutors acknowledged they knew about the site and had contacted Instagram. But they would not talk about it.
When pressed on whether they had spoken to people listed on the site, State Prosecutor Kathleen M. Jennings would not go into details but said anyone caught intimidating witnesses would be prosecuted.
"What I can tell you is, if someone intimidates a witness, either through this site or any other site, they are going to get prosecuted," Jennings said.
Witness intimidation in Delaware is a mid-level felony that can land someone up to eight years in prison. The state Attorney General's Office is working on revamping the law and make it a more serious offense, including a Class B felony which carries a two-year to 25-year prison stint.
The department expects to have a bill requesting the changes to state lawmakers later this month.
Delaware and other states have been trying to get tough on people caught using social networks to intimidate witnesses.
A Philadelphia teen admitted last month in Family Court that he posted photos of shooting victims and secret court documents on Twitter and was sentenced to four years at a juvenile detention center.
Because of the "no snitch" culture that plagues many communities, law enforcement at times struggles to find witnesses to come forward.
"It's a huge problem for the criminal justice system, beginning with what happens at the initial stage of a crime scene," Jennings said. "There will be 10 or 20 people standing around and nobody says anything. Victims who get shot don't give their correct names, they get private transport to a hospital and have no idea why they get shot."
While there are a lot of reasons for this mentality, Jennings said the main ones are fear, as well as a disconnect and a lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
Witnesses refusing to cooperate are huge obstacles to successful prosecution of crimes, Wilmington police Cpl. Mark Ivey said.
"It is incredibly frustrating to know a crime occurred right in front of a person and they claim they did not see anything," Ivey said. "We have outstanding investigators who collect, analyze and synthesize evidence and information, but the ultimate outcome depends on cooperation from our fellow citizens.
"A 'no snitch' mentality is simply incompatible with a culture of safety and prosperity that this city deserves."
Herman Holloway Jr., a Wilmington community activist who last summer helped lead a billboard campaign urging citizens to anonymously report tips to police, said these social sites can create hurdles in reporting crimes.
Even if everyone in the community is talking about who did what, these people struggle to talk to police about it.
"Among our younger generation, the teenagers and others, they are fearful of the retaliation," Holloway said, adding that's why it's important to have ways for people to anonymously report tips.