[Update: 1:41 p.m.] @J_tsar, the Twitter account identified as belonging to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has gained more than 20,000 followers in less than an hour. The user posted the following Tweet on the day of the bombing:
Ain't no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people
â€” Jahar (@J_tsar) April 16, 2013
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Meanwhile, friends of @J_tsar are coming to his defense, with one user posting “that's still my nigga.”
[Update: 12:27 p.m.] Gawker’s Adrian Chen reported that Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s real Twitter account is @J_tsar. A high school classmate of Tsarnaev’s confirmed the authenticity of the account with BuzzFeed. If it’s true, Tsarnaev’s final tweet, posted on April 17, was “I'm a stress free kind of guy.”
Call it the new abnormal: Impersonating notorious figures and fugitives, and having a ball with it.
Much like we saw with the perpetrators of the Sandy Hook school shooting and the “Dark Knight” movie theater massacre, the suspects behind the Boston Marathon bombings are finding themselves at the center of imitation social media accounts, many of which seem to exist for no other reason but to cause mischief.
Tamerlan Tsarneav, 26, was killed in an altercation with police early Friday and as a massive manhunt for his younger brother, 19-year-old Dzhokar A. Tsarnaev, continued, Facebook and Twitter impersonators may have added to the confusion.
A Twitter account with the name Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev was presumably created in the wake of the suspect’s identification, with tweets dating back only a few hours. By Friday morning, the account had more than 4,800 followers and counting. In one tweet, the account holder threatened to kill the Boston Police Department. That tweet received nearly 400 re-tweets and more than a dozen replies. Most of the respondents ostensibly recognized that the account was a phony, although some fellow tweeters did seem to take it seriously.
The name of another Twitter account -- @Dzhokhar_ -- has been changed to match that of the suspect, a move that has helped the account holder gain hundreds of new followers. With tweets dating back to last year, the account has fooled some Twitter users. Although most of the tweets from the account are sports related, the user does apparently have some firm political views. In December, the account holder posted a meme that featured a side-by-side comparison of “legal” automatic weapons and “illegal” French cheeses.
Naturally, not everyone appreciates the user’s antics:
BTW @dzhokhar_ is a fake account for the bomber. The only thing more pathetic than the dude who changed his name are the new followers.
â€” James Gunn (@JamesGunn) April 19, 2013
Despite the criticism, several other fake accounts are popping up as well, with some users mocking the police and at least one quoting Shakespeare.
You will never find me!
â€” Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev (@DzhokharT) April 19, 2013
Another account, @Tsarnaev, took the opportunity to convey a sentiment that many Americans are no doubt feeling: “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is responsible for the bombing of Boston Marathon,” the account’s profile description said. “He deserves the death penalty!” That Twitter user also linked to a recently created Blogspot page asking for donations to help victims of the bombing.
On Facebook it was more of the same, with a page in the name of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev having amassed almost 2,000 followers by Wednesday morning. At that time, the account had contained little public information, aside from a few photos and a list of “likes” that included Willow Smith, Alicia Keys and “The Boondocks.” Later in the morning, the account name was changed to Jason Martin.
The phony Facebook and Twitter accounts mirror the barrage of online mischief that unfolded around other recent tragedies. In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings last year, some Facebook users created pages celebrating the shooter, Adam Lanza. One page, “Adam Lanza Is a Hero,” was created multiple times after being deleted by Facebook administrators.
Such pages are potentially in violation of Facebook’s community standards, which expressly prohibit “harassment,” “hate speech” and “graphic content.” The policy states that “sharing any graphic content for sadistic pleasure is prohibited.” In general, however, both Facebook and Twitter are not proactive about preventing such activity. In most cases, the social networks take action only after the pages are reported, but often pages celebrating notorious figures are kept intact, presumably on free speech grounds. For instance, several Facebook pages dedicated to James Holmes, who carried out the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., last July, are still active.
The antics reaffirm, if nothing else, that tastelessness on the Internet knows no bounds. And in the age of social media, a recognizable name, however notorious, means followers and “likes” -- for whatever that’s worth.