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Instagram shut accounts used to intimidate witnesses in Baltimore; hours later new one popped up

Instagram said Tuesday it has removed four Baltimore-based accounts that were intimidating people who allegedly cooperated with police.

But within hours a new page had popped up, highlighting the challenge of policing online content.

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A collection of pages circulating in recent months have been posting pictures of people along with court or police paperwork showing that they had spoken to investigators, The Baltimore Sun reported. At least one page, taken down in recent weeks, openly extorted people by saying that it would remove information in exchange for money.

“These accounts violate our policies, and we have removed them accordingly,” said Liza Crenshaw of Instagram Communications.

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The most active current page had more than 6,300 followers. The person who ran the account, whose identity is unknown, told The Sun in a series of direct messages that “even if I delete my page, another will replace me.”

Another page was created not long after Instagram said it had shut down four pages and banned a device connected to two of them. The administrator of the account sent a direct message to The Sun saying, “They can’t ban me only hope [t]o contain me.”

No one locally has faced criminal charges in relation to the pages. In Philadelphia in 2013, authorities were able to identify the person running a similar Instagram site and filed criminal charges of witness intimidation and terroristic threats. The teenager received four years in juvenile detention.

In a statement, an FBI spokesperson said: “The FBI is aware of witness intimidation accounts but as you know we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”

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Federal prosecutors in Maryland have brought a series of recent indictments in which they allege cooperators were gunned down, and another case that highlighted online harassment of a witness. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office has also pointed to its efforts to support witnesses such as growing its victim and witness services units and launching a public relations campaign.

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