So far the social media trail left behind by Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has offered only the barest hints that could connect him to a terrible act of terror. Indeed, his Twitter account – which he continued using after the bombings – is mostly notable for how ordinary it is.
Under the user name "jmaster1," Tsarnaev "liked" a photo of Shamil Basayev, a warlord in Chechnya who claimed to be the mastermind behind the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, in which 40 terrorists and 130 civilians were killed when Russian special forces pumped an unknown chemical agent into the building.
He also "liked" another pro-Chechnya image that included a string of hashtags: #FreeChechenia #Jihad #Jannah #ALLAH #Jesus and #God.
"If I were an investigator right now, obviously the platform he deleted matters the most," said Juliette Kayyem, a CNN terrorism analyst.
On one hand, such online activity is hardly damning. "Likes" don't make a terrorist.
Yet the deleted Instagram account adds to the impression that Tsarnaev used certain corners of the Internet to carve out a more Chechen persona for himself online than he did in daily life.
His Twitter account, @J_tsar, appeared to mirror his outward life most closely, with Tsarnaev engaging in the stream of random banter that drives the microblogging site. Though he did quote from an Islamic cleric and obliquely reference the Boston bombing on his Twitter feed, most tweets talk about homework, hip-hop music, or his favorite TV shows.
It is on the Russian social networking site VKontakte that a slightly different Tsarnaev begins to emerge. For the most part, the portrait is still benign, with Tsarnaev spending the most time discussing his favorite soccer club, Chechnya's FC Terek Grozny. He even wrote some posts in the Chechen language and included a joke: “ 'A car goes by with a Chechen, a Dagestani and an Ingush inside. Question: who is driving?' Answer: 'The police.' ”
But through VK, Tsarnaev might have gained a somewhat warped view of Chechnya – a place he had never been, writes Slate's Mike Walker.
"Whatever Chechnya Dzhokhar came to know through VK was not wholly representative of the region. The majority of ethnic Chechen youth of Dzhokhar’s generation will probably harbor anti-Russian views and have especially negative thoughts about United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s ruling party, which has taken a hard stance against Chechen independence.... However, Chechnya is a decently stable place today: Regular airline flights come and go, soccer matches are held, new construction is undertaken."
"Part of the anti-Russian views on the part of young Chechens are probably a combination of the legacy of war and simply being young and angry," he adds. "Those who grew up outside of the region, though, may be captivated by a romanticized extremism and maybe more inclined to actually carry something out."
Given what is already known about Tsarnaev's online habits, it seems unlikely that authorities will find a smoking gun on Instagram – Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, who is also a suspect in the bombing case, posted much more radical content than did Dzhokhar.
But with Dzhokhar reportedly talking to authorities less now that he has been read his rights, and with Tamerlan dead, authorities will surely look everywhere for possible clues.