Experts Say Social Media Has Changed How People Identify With High-Profile Suspects

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has supporters who have been sending him money while he’s locked away in Fort Devens.


Since Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was identified, arrested, and ultimately imprisoned, for allegedly setting off explosives along the marathon route with his older brother, Tamerlan, countless conspiracy websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages claiming his innocence have sprouted up online.

People have even gone as far as setting up a bank account for the suspect—and depositing money into the account for him on a regular basis.

Experts say this behavior, which includes fan websites created by young girls fawning over the long-haired, baby-faced bombing suspect, is being expressed like never before. “Convicted offenders get a lot of fan letters, proposals for marriage, and support—there is nothing unique about that. But the Internet is letting this be done in new ways, and so has social media,” says Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who has been a consultant and expert witness for numerous high-profile criminal cases in the United States, including Jeffrey Dahmer and Andrea Yates. “I think this might be happening more than we have seen in the past.”

Dietz says the way the Tsarnaev brothers have been “marketed,” as well as their “fashionable look for today,” may be part of the reason for the websites, tweets, and crushes that younger girls have developed on 19-year-old suspect Dzhokhar. Based on the fact that Dzhokhar is completely inaccessible, locked away at Fort Devens with little to no chance of ever being released, Dietz says, is what drives the desire to develop those feelings. He says people who admit to having romantic inclinations toward Dzhokhar attach themselves to him because it is fairly safe to do so. “Because someone who is unapproachable to them, in this instance because he is in custody, he poses no threat. It’s a safe direction for holding a crush. To have a crush on a classmate is to risk rejection or intimacy. To have a crush on the alleged bomber, there is no risk the teen perceives … it’s harmless social activity by the immature. It would be no different if they had a crush on an Avatar [character],” he says. “Thinking the person looks cute is a big part of why someone would get on the bandwagon or to save the wounded bird.”

As for those who send Dzhokhar money, as he indicated in a recent phone call with his mother as reported by Channel 4 news, Dietz says the “wounded bird” theory still applies. In the taped phone conversation, Dzhokhar tells his parents that he is eating well, walking around, and that people set up an account for him and made deposits. His mother, similarly, tells her son that the family has received $8,000 in donations from supporters around the world.

Dietz says this behavior can be attributed to a few things, most of which are “less harmless” than a fleeting schoolgirl crush. “There are needy people that want to help anyone else who is in need and put their emotional energy and even time and money into the effort to save them,” he says.

But for “C,” who asked that her full name not be used, it’s not about Dzhokhar’s looks, and it’s not about saving him—it’s about his “innocence.”

“I sympathize with [Dzhokhar] because I truly from the bottom of my heart believe he is innocent,” says the 19-year-old, who also runs a Twitter account associated with the “Free Jahar” movement. “I don’t believe [Dzhokhar] or his brother Tamerlan planted those [bombs] near the finish line at the marathon.”

She says she has donated money to causes to support Dzhokhar financially, printed fliers and posted them in her neighborhood, and talks regularly with others on Twitter who share similar views. “When I tweet about [Dzhokhar], it is never a crushing thing. I don’t have a crush on him or support him for his looks, I support him because I believe he is innocent. I’m a supporter, not a fan girl,” she says. “I really don’t care how people perceive me for supporting [Dzhokhar]. My parents always told me this phrase; ‘always stand up for what you believe is right, even if it means standing alone.’ That is exactly what I am doing, standing up for what I believe, which is that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan are innocent. And I will never give up or stop fighting for them.”

She says her sentiments are based on a “lack” of evidence connecting the Tsarnaev brothers to the attack, which, in Dietz’s opinion, can be classified as “ignorance.”

“There is nothing wrong with the presumption of innocence, but to deny evidence when it’s in front of them is another matter,” Dietz says. What’s most alarming in these cases, he says, is that people are willing to put extra effort into defending criminals and to support them financially when people are in need “a stone’s throw” away. “But the effort and time and money is wasted on an accused criminal,” he says.

  • T.

    a bank account was not set up – all prisoners automatically have an account where they can receive money or deposit money that they’ve earned from working at the prison. please get your facts straight.

    • Putin Bearknife

      Actually, several accounts were set up. Just because you don’t know about them, anonymous internet commenter, does not mean they don’t/didn’t exist. Get YOUR facts straight before correcting others idiot.

  • T.

    P.s. where’s the evidence that you say people are denying?

    • agingcynic

      Ask Ed Snowden. He seems to know everything else.

    • penucheBro420

      You are stupid.

    • Putin Bearknife

      Safely in the hands of the investigators, who’s job it is to formally construct a case against a terrorist with PLENTY of security cameras, police dashboard cams, eyewitnesses, audio/video confession recordings, phone/internet/computer records, to convict to death, and NOT freely given out to any random idiot on the internet who isn’t even bold enough to offer more than a single letter to identify him/herself. If you want to know all the myriad reasons why this is, go to law school or simply acquire common sense and critical thinking skills.

      • medianotes6

        The author’s point in the article is that people are supporting an assertion that Tsarnaev is innocent of the bombing when the evidence in front of them says he is guilty; ‘safely in the hands of the investigators and not freely given out’ does not put the evidence in front of them. Therefore the point is really ‘they should believe what they are told to believe and not question it’.

        • catt17

          Thats the problem, people suck up everything they hear on television because it is their only source and dont ask questions. Tamerlan was known by the FBI, they questioned him for 3 yrs, yet they needed the publics help to identify him. Who is stupid? Smh

          • TrueBlue73

            Well, we have a lot of evidence and witnesses in the Watertown segment of the Marathon saga. Come on over, we’ll leave the light on for ya!

            They didn’t question him FOR 3 YEARS. lol But we did drop the ball by being too PC with him. Russia pegged him as a rising extremist and they were right!

  • Tom Fontaine
  • Kishmish

    …and the thing the author fails to or refuses to look at, is that social media, and every image or comment we’ve heard from people who actually knew the guy for years make the accusations unlikely, or at the very least so full of extenuating circumstances that only a blood lust driven need for revenge on a medieval level would allow us to NOT question what we’ve been told.

    All that talk about “needy” imbeciles and lonely misguided (or let’s use the all-purpose-teenage dismissal word) “hormonal” overlooks the fact that THIS TIME WE—the public—can see through social media just how NOT a “bad boy” (to use ANOTHER of the fall back phrases dragged out to lump any undesired behavior into stereotyped, movie-of the-week, parody) Dzhokhar was. In FACT, he reminds too many of us of the kids we know, raised or hang with, and there have been enough depictions of his kindnesses and total LACK of fanatical religiosity for us to simply suck down whatever we’re told to believe.

    Do I believe he “confessed”? I surely can see how he might have. How long would you hold out before saying ANYTHING to get 200 policemen to stop shooting at you?
    And if, as we are supposed to accept without question, this fanatical Islamist, who drank and smoked and “twerked” for crap sake, was so ready to become a “martyr” I can’t think of a better opportunity than when all those police were shooting at this unarmed boy as he lay bleeding. He could have raised himself up and martyrdom would have been his.
    So let’s look at this thing from more than ONE SIDE. The middle ages are over, and we should be as beyond eye-for-an-eye, blood must atone “justice” (revenge) as we expect terrorists to be.

    • fullyalive


  • rory22

    Innocent until proven guilty, all I gotta say.

  • morrissett

    such a badly researched article – he has a commissary account like every other US prisoner and he has clearly been setup by the Govt – do some research before spreading your ignorance and infecting the general population with more lies

  • morrissett

    what is the evidence being denied? all we the people have been shown would be inadmissible in court or is leaked from anonymous officials desperate to pin the guilt on this kid who had not yet even been indicted – fake boat notes and alleged admissions made without legal protections and after major surgery – the guy Dietz clearly has no idea about the law of evidence to say that people are denying it. People are saying the evidence is insufficient – there is not enough proof. G

    • Putin Bearknife

      Safely in the hands of the investigators, who’s job it is to formally construct a case against a terrorist with PLENTY of security cameras, police dashboard cams, eyewitnesses, audio/video confession recordings, phone/internet/computer records, to convict to death, and NOT freely given out to any random idiot on the internet who isn’t even bold enough to offer more than a vague pseudonym to identify him/herself. If you want to know all the myriad reasons why this is, go to law school or simply acquire common sense and critical thinking skills.

      • morrissett

        Um I am in law school and to think that any judge would allow a confession in to court that was obtained under a ‘sedation holiday’ as Dzhokhar’s reportedly was following his arrest/shooting by police (while unarmed) and major surgery is a complete joke. Why is the US government falsifying evidence such as the boat note in this case? I sure would like to know. I expected more but given PRISM and all it has revealed about their moral compass maybe I should not be so surprised.

        • TrueBlue73

          Law school? lmao. Where is your evidence that a boat note was falsified? It has yet to be released. Are you saying it was released to you, an alleged law student? Roflmao. Dream on ……

          • morrissett

            I know the note on the boat was falsified as I am allergic to BS – with regards to the confession allegedly obtained during a sedation holiday – it is HIGHLY PREJUDICIAL evidence and there will be issues with whether it was voluntarily obtained. You can laugh if you like. But laughing won’t change the fact that this kid is innocent.

          • TrueBlue73

            “I am allergic to BS?” That’s what a “law student” would use to refute a note admitted into evidence? lmao Luckily for your friend, his lawyers are qualified individuals and not posers. I urge you to at least get a GED.

          • fullyalive

            I’m with you, morrissett. I have 2 Ph.D.s and two licenses and my B.S. meter, after working with people for almost 40 years (married happily, and NOT “crash”-affected like a teenager) on two continents, is WAY up with this and yes, much of that concocted evidence is…laughable. (Although this is NOT funny, and neither was Kennnedy’s peculiar death, with all those strange, suppressed, documented clues and 9/11 and all those things scientists, engineers and firemen said. Hmmm?) Call it conspiracy theories or B.S. My hair stood up on the back of my neck when Bush said “we are going to war” and Congress stood up and clapped like programmed monkeys. Phooey! Anyone telling you otherwise is beating their gorilla-chest and is too much programmed already! Don’t take their B.S. seriously. That guy Dietz is full of himself and full of hot air!

          • Edward Jeansonne

            Our nation was never the same after President Kennedy’s assassination; and, why? Well, it is because we loved him and trusted him and he was stolen from us. As the truth came to the top we learned it was our own government who killed him not Lee Harvey Oswald. We learned to not trust our own government. They taught us well. Still, we love our country and mistrust our government. Do I believe the story about Dzhoktar Tsarnaev? No. But, just as Kennedy’s and Oswald’s life was taken unfairly so will Dzhoktar’s and there is nothing we can do about it. There is an old saying “Only cream and bastards rise to the top.” but, so does the truth. We are all “goners” when we do not exercise our right of independent thought and question major events. By the way, this post is not posted by Edward, but, Rhonda Jeansonne. I have a real name.

    • Putin Bearknife

      The idea that the boat note is fake is, itself, an allegation with no evidence made by you in this forum. “The law of evidence” is something you obviously googled up but don’t understand, as your line of questioning precludes your comprehension of legal standards and practice. Your comment is full of more logical fallacies than I would have though possible in such a short space, which tends to reaffirm my belief that you’re a google quarterback trying to sound smart to saber-rattle for the bandwagon you’ve so anonymously (read; cowardly) chosen to jump onto.

  • emerald98

    what is missing is Dzhokhar is not working….and that account, as all inmates get, is where people are depositing money for him use buy things from the commissary things like stamps and food.

  • Jackie

    Was there this same outrage when George Zimmerman shot & killed Trayvon Martin and then set up a Paypal account where people donated over $200,000 allowing him to make bail (twice since he initially lied about how much money he had)? Nope. Because Zimmerman killed a black kid but more importantly, he’s not Muslim. So what’s worse? Jahar getting a few grand from people who think he’s innocent (or cute) or people who knew for a fact that Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin (as he never denied doing so) and wanted to help out a killer financially because they’re ignorant racists?

    • Putin Bearknife

      “Where was this same outrage when George Zimmerman….”, ummm, the outrage was all over the internet, news, legal channels, etc. You must be demented or live in a cave if you believe the assumption you propose that there was no outrage in that case. But that is also a very different case. Just because your sad little thing didn’t get your unimportant voice heard doesn’t mean that this sad little thing isn’t worth talking about. Go cry your head on the big fluffy race card you played while you’re at it.

  • ally

    he wants to insult america’s youths intelligence, and he gets paid for it, how very unamerican and shameful !

    • TrueBlue73

      The youth he’s referring to are doing a damn good job looking unintelligent without any help from the author. lol

  • ally

    mainstream medias stupidity keeps on becoming more evident each day

  • C n

    A prison bank account was set up but it reached it $1000 limit so a new account was set up which his mother asked for all future donations to be sent. Think it’s you guys who need to do your reasearch!!

  • Slade

    What an irresponsible article. The public is bored with reports of only lovestruck teens believing the Tsarnaevs are innocent. Why don’t you try some real reporting and do a piece on adults- both male and female- who question the guilt of the Tsarnaevs. Or man up and do an article on the questions themselves surrounding this case. Or perhaps you should go to work for Teen Beat since you seem more adept at reporting fluff.

    • fullyalive

      Yeah! Lots of adults’ B.S. meter is up on this! NO more PR programming and setting innocent people up as medieval scape-goats!

  • TrueBlue73

    Your article struck a nerve with the dysfunctional Dzhokhar supporters.

  • Mary Smith

    There are people dead and severely hurt because of this idiot and his brother. HE DESERVES NOTHING. HE SHOULD HAVE ALREADY BEEN PUT TO DEATH. He ran over his own brother and shot police officers, but of course he is innocent. If you think that he is innocent, please go live in another country. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Disgusting.

    • AsdPleasure

      Do your homework! He did not shoot police = he was unarmed, as has already been admitted to BY THE POLICE. The police officer shot and the scene of Tamerlan’s death, was a victim of “friendly fire”, which also has been admitted to BY THE POLICE. And which they can’t deny because of eyewitness residents overlooking the scene.

  • Richard Eastman

    His backpack was white. The bomb bag was black as shown in FBI released
    photo. Special Agent in Charge of the Joint Task Force Richard
    DesLauriers said both bombs were in “black nylon bags or backpacks.”
    Videos and photos show Dzhokhar with white bag. The Governor and others who described a video of Dzhokhar
    dropping his backpack before the bomb exploded – but the Governor did
    not see the video and he was not told what color the backpack and he did
    not and could not say. But he dropped the backpack to get his cell
    phone from it. That is not mentioned. Google the image of the black
    bomb bag, and the younger Tsaranev with white bag. The defense should
    rest on these facts — but for some reason they are ignoring everyone
    telling them about it.

  • johndoe

    What an IDIOT Dietz is—Talk about refusing to face the evidence! I suppose he is in denial about the Craft operative men there who were photographed wearing a black backpack with the identifiable white patch on it, and who was seen running from Dzhokhar’s area without his backpack on! That is the kind of evidence that should’ve been reported by the big media outlets. Instead, we just see this ridiculous video of two young men walking past the camera with backpacks on. And Dzhokhar’s backpack wasn’t even dark-colored like the one that was found blown up! How does the government shill Mr. Dietz explain THAT evidence?

    • fullyalive


    • Ed

      They are innocent is so obvious! And just to be straight I am 36 years old and I am a catholic. Many people I know think the same way and they are not young girls who are in love in Dzokhar. They are people who can think and don’t believe whatever tv says. All Americans are brain washed by media. Each American should go to other country for a few months to see how a real news should look like. And Mary Smith – those who were hurt in bombing should look for a true and make sure that the right people are punish. Those kids are the victims of Boston marathon bombing, too.

  • Mary Smith

    Officer Collier did not shoot himself. For all you defenders of this terrorist it’s too bad you didn’t lose a loved one or limb. Maybe you would think more like a normal person if you did. This whole discussion makes me sick. Do us all a favor and move to Russia. All you supporters belong there. You are a disgrace to America.

    • catt17

      Sorry to disappoint you Mary but if you researched they also claimed the boys robbed the store too, only to retract the story later and say it was someone else. Witnesses that came forward to say they shot him? None, now thats a disgrace to America! You people are part of the reason we are being stripped of our rights, because you are conditioned by the media.

      • TrueBlue73

        Stop clinging to erroneous reports that were corrected shortly thereafter. There is a carjack victim to whom the suspect professed his guilt in the murder of Officer Collier. YOU, Catt17, are conditioned by conspiracy sites!

        • fullyalive

          And YOU are full of B.S.

    • fullyalive

      I too jump off a cliff when I’m told. That must mean I’m a good girl. I hope. Thank you for programming me so well. I like it! This way I don’t have to think for myself.

      • Mary Smith

        You should jump off a cliff if you think these idiots are innocent. INDICTED yesterday in case you missed it.

  • Jennifer Chin

    Steve, Who is Sean Gannon?

  • catt17

    You try putting a mid sized pressure cooker into a backpack, it doesnt work, even a small one wont even fit, you cant zipper the bag. Case closed. Maybe the cans blew up like several people have stated. There are alot of groups that wont even let the crush girls in, you should get your facts straight. I certainly hope the “adults” in such groups dont file a class action lawsuit against you for defamation of character.

    • TrueBlue73

      Case open – The pressure cookers that were used aren’t all that big. They’re not your grandma’s pressure cookers. They can easily fit in a backpack!

      • catt17

        I suppose you would Actually know someone with a smaller one, (its hers not her grams FYI), couldnt get backpack zippered. Until you actually try something, I could care less what you “think” Thanks anyway.

  • SCharlie

    Evidently the $50 I sent to his prison trust fund was just a drop in the bucket. I’m no fangirl, just a grandmother who is exploring this issue from all angles and reserving judgment (I have also sent monies to One Fund Boston). The possibility exists that Dzhokhar will spend the rest of his life in the solitude of a supermax prison. As bad as the crimes were, that is an awful long time for a young mind to wither an waste. Dzhokhar can atone and still provide something productive to society, even whilst serving as a horrible warning from Bombers Row.

    • TrueBlue73

      Grandma, he has his Quran and access to reading materials. You just sent him money for Doritos and rap music. smh

      • catt17

        And you care why?? Smh

        • fullyalive

          Because she is human and less programmed by PR committees (more heart-centered as we all should be.)

      • fullyalive

        How about being spiteful, that would feel good?

    • Putin Bearknife

      You’re no grandmother, you speak in the same manner with the same inflections of all the #FreeJahar fangirls on twitter. You show your youth and immaturity when you say you think life in prison is a harsh punishment for a terrorist attack because “that is an awful long time for a young mind to wither and waste”, and that he can “still provide something productive to society”.

      Grandmothers don’t make up psuedo-clever little quips like “Bomber’s Row”.

      If you had the wisdom of any grandmother, you’d know this: Jahar won’t last a week out in society. Jahar won’t last a month in general prison population. His best bet to live at all is to be in solitary confinement in prison.

      Go ahead, fangirl, try to invent support from a broad base that doesn’t exist, but thinking adults can see right through your little B.S. spree. Know how? Because our kids pull the same shit every single day.

      • SCharlie

        Mr. Bearknife,

        I applaud you for knowing me well enough as to ascertain my age from my grammar usage. I’m flattered you find me youthful and immature; having four granddaughters can keep one young at heart.
        I’m also glad to know that, like me, you have over 30 years of experience in both the correctional system and in emergency medical services. I have seen the good, the bad, and the despicably tragic.

        Are you so hardened as to think that any reasonable and educated adult who pays attention to the news/newspapers is not aware of “Bomber’s Row?” Nearly all federally convicted terrorists call it home and 60 Minutes ran a superb expose on it several years ago. Nowhere in my post did I argue that he doesn’t belong there. If that is where this young man ends up, then so be it.

        I will continue to focus on the positive while reserving judgment and allow you to propagate the negative while passing judgment on, and twisting the words of, others.

        Have a good day, sir.

      • fullyalive

        I have lots of kids, too, and am trained as a trauma-therapist and you are a robot. Get off your high, inhuman horse! Imagine yourself set up and in isolation! That’s where you belong, NOT amongst feeling humans. How about what Christ said, anyone? I’m not religious but the same thing Indians say works for me: Throw the first stone if you think you are any better! (Although that is tribal behavior and archaic consciousness, but the metaphor still works.)

    • fullyalive

      Good for you! The way we SHOULD feel… and, I also happen to think there is much more playing out here! (I’m a – married happily – grand-mother too, and was trying to figure out how to send the boy some money. I’m also a psychotherapist and have worked with people for almost 40 years with 2 Ph.D.s and not stupidly having a “crush” on a criminal.

  • Fsociety

    Their backpacks didn’t match , they ran because everyone in America wanted them dead their young its bound to set them off. Cops shot at dzhokhar even though he surrendered and came out. They killed Tamerlans friend even tho he wasn’t a threat and 2 FBI agents fell out helicopter *whoops* but these things happen right. And jahar must’ve astral traveled and wrote that boat note that wasn’t there 2 weeks before. The cops didn’t listen when they yelled out “I’m coming out, chill out, we didn’t do it” and there’s nothing screwed up about this?? Not a fan girl if I did my research. I’m not saying its a conspiracy.. Bush did but I’m saying they obviously have been set up..
    Can’t fangirl over jahar he’s a suspect of a mass murder , he isn’t a popster. Just saying

    • TrueBlue73

      Yep, you’re a fangirl who researched other fangirl tweets when you weren’t clicking links to youtube. Btw, the not wasn’t “discovered” two weeks later. Someone “leaked” that evidence two weeks later.

  • A.

    You guys can choose to believe what you wanna believe, be it the information you gathered from the media or “evidence” from conspiracy theories. But IMO, tirelessly trying to defend your belief in Jahar’s innocence won’t prove anything to anyone with different views. And calling an expert like Dr. Dietz who is clearly well-versed in his field an idiot won’t change anything either. SMH

  • marc b

    These myriad hack writers of blogs towing the mainstream line are worst than useless little cowards. How about a pop psychology article exploring the abuse of power as USA lapses into a surveillance state?

  • Cynthia Little

    I am a 57 year old wife, mother and grandmother. I was formally the “sheep” that everyone refers to. I have always believed my government before, but April 15 changed that. Lies, half truths, double dealings. FEMA, DHS, FBI and the CIA. The death of five material witnesses in 6 weeks following the bombings. I admit I used to be oblivious, I did not see this coming. But I am not dumb. I believe this boy and his brother were set up.

  • Lilka

    No way can beleive jahar did this ,the kind of a boy has,to be free from charges ,enough is enough he should be free.he is a talented with clean records student,who was nice to everyone .This is what I reas everywhere.
    At the most after his release he should report everday to court sign petition ,keep eye on him,but should be free & let live him his life .