Cops Ineptly Pretending to Be Punk Rockers on the Internet

Murder, theft, and other wickedness.
March 29 2013 5:45 AM

Boston Punk Zombies Are Watching You!

The Boston police go undercover on the Internet to stop the city’s most dreaded scourge: DIY indie-rock shows.

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 That's exactly the point, Donna. No one knows if anyone is real online anymore. Is she an actual 21-year-old herself? Administrators at Regis College told me that the school “has NO current or recent student named Donna Giordano.” Maybe we can ask the people Donna tagged in her casual photo of friends hanging out—the drummer for Slipknot and Bollywood actress Trisha Krishnan.

Details like that are among the typical warning signs you might find when dealing with an online scam—it’s a recently created account with very few friends, almost no interaction with anyone, and generic-looking pictures. Her cover photos include a snapshot of the No. 66 bus in Allston (so you know she's repping Allston hard), and a generic Boston skyline photo, you know, like most twentysomething girls into the punk scene will always post on their walls.  In this light, her “I love the pit!” photo of a mosh pit, obviously taken from an Internet thumbnail, looks like one of the saddest feints ever.

Cops have also infiltrated local music message boards. One frequent poster on the popular Lemmingtrail boards who tried to ingratiate himself into the conversation was later discovered to be police. “At that time Lemmingtrail as a community had an unusual sense of self,” Matt Sisto, who runs Lemmingtrail, told me. “It's like that scene in The Matrix when all the Agent Smith characters can tell when there's an intruder by some sort of sixth sense.”

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You don’t have to be a local-music Agent Smith, though, to tell that some of these emails smell pretty fishy. “Hey there, local P native here,” wrote one probable imposter to a local band, (who probably meant to type JP, slang for Jamaica Plain).  “What is the Address for the local music show tonight?"

The local music show tonight? Who talks like that about a DIY show? Someone not used to talking about music, that’s who. Another message: “Is there any chance I can get the address for this party you are playing tonight? I believe I was once driven to the Drive-In by a friend, (all I know is that it was a JP party space that wasn't Whitehaus), but it's all very foggy.”

Yes, all very foggy indeed. “In this day and age of Catfish,” one scene veteran told me, “you've watched a couple episodes of that show, you know what you're looking for in a fake account.” It's hard to confirm whether these accounts and ones like them are in fact failed traps—the Boston Police did not respond to multiple requests for comment on these investigations. But the fact that the promoters are on such high alert for show-narcs illustrates how paranoid this game of indie-rock cat-and-mouse has become.

Whether or not any of this is a worthwhile use of police resources is open for debate.  Using Facebook as a crime-fighting resource has become exceptionally common around the country. A survey last year found that 80 percent of 1,221 law-enforcement agencies asked use social media as part of their investigations, and many admit to creating fake profiles to work their way into a suspect's social circle.

That's typically for more serious crimes than music, however. Still, loud rock shows can, in fact, be a nuisance to neighbors, as many of the people who put the shows on will admit. But are they worth the man-hours the Boston Police have put into them? And are they worth the distrust such tactics create within a community that, loud music aside, are certainly no worse, and in many cases a lot more respectful, than typical twentysomethings  partying in any city?

Apparently so, if you base it on the number of venues and shows in Allston alone that have been shut down or raided this past year. The Spelling Bee/Do No Harm Show was forced to reschedule and move on the night in question. Another venue known as the Butcher Shoppe was forced to close when it was contacted ahead of time by police who found reference to the location of a planned show online.  Matt Altieri, who ran the popular venue Wacky Kastle out of his home until November, said toward the end police began showing up ahead of time knowing all of the details of the show. He's since stopped throwing shows there— -- the heat got to be too much.

As a result of efforts like this, promoters and houses have become much more cautious when they receive requests out of the blue for information about shows. And this kind of caution may be, in its way, a kind of success for the BPD initiative. It's kind of hard to put on a show when you can't tell anyone ahead of time where it's going to be. In that sense, the cops seem to be succeeding through another tried-and-true Internet tradition. Trolling is almost always transparently obvious, but when it's unflagging and endlessly annoying, it can be extremely discouraging. Troll a group of people hard enough, and they may end up saying, like famed Boston Beat Gang punk Joe Sly, “What's the point?”

Luke O'Neil is a journalist in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @lukeoneil47.

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