The Path and Trajectory of Social Media Investigations
The long road down a social media investigation can and does lead to “going down the rabbit hole”. Once a thread is identified, it can lead to a virtually endless spider web of seemingly connected information. To make better use of your valuable time, SDC provides the investigator the first level of defense and filter to make the best use of investigators’ time during the workday by adding in all found pictures, expanded posts, relevant found connections and url links to all data. In this way, the private investigator can get down to the serious work of analysis much more quickly and effectively.
Let us walk you through what a professional online investigator on our team shared here so you can clearly understand what we are talking about. A typical online investigation almost always should lead to searching your person of interest online for multiple profiles for the same social media site or sites. Is the claimant/ investigatee using an alias profile, or connected to different people than who’s on their main profile? Who are their main connections and where are they posting from?
Connecting the dots of the social media spider web of an individual is imperative to deliver results and is a skill garnered through repetition just like golf or playing the piano. One thing is for certain, you never know what to expect when investigating someone using social networks. It often leads to more questions than answers. Answering the questions is how the investigator can begin to make sense of the connectivity of social media and how the demarcating “dots” in an investigation are critically important to the types of cases being worked on.
In today’s expansive social media world, just because an investigator identifies a subject’s Facebook page, doesn’t mean you are finished and have found all that is potentially important out there on the web. It’s critical to not overlook who your person of interest is connected to, and with whom they communicate regularly. Key elements to consider are: what time of the day are they posting, where are they posting from, where are they checking in at, what events are they invited to, and what interests do they share?
Once you have identified each of the connections to your subject and rate which ones are most relevant or consistent, the next step is to start exploring those connections to see if you can find any new information about your subject. Let’s say your subject has a profile that is completely locked down. All comments, postings, and pictures are set to private. While we aren’t going to hack the account (that’s illegal), we definitely are not going to send them a friend request (that’s just not a smart decision for many reasons), what we can do, is look at our date of loss and injury. Then start going through all the subject’s relevant friends and family that have profiles. BAM!! You just found an open profile of one of the subject’s associates that they communicate with most frequently on social media. She has numerous posts and comments about the subject’s injury, and what she has been doing and involved with since the date of loss. This information would never have been identified if we hadn’t gone through and connected all the “dots”.
Let’s say, for example, you have a liability claim related to a huge fire loss, and you are trying to locate any possible witnesses that may have seen the actual fire, know someone that did witness the incident, who was involved, or possibly uncover conversations between the claimant, family, or friends revealing new information. You don’t always have to tie yourself down to a specific person. Through various open source networking sites, communities, and keyword searches, you can also search for specific dates, comments, photos, and pictures that may reveal who was involved, and possibly uncover conversations between the persons involved or locate people that may have driven by the scene, even family, or friends that reveal new information.
Identifying any possible witnesses requires the ability to probe, search, and canvas all social media posts, pictures, comments, and forums related to the incident or situation based on geographic locations and time frames.
Searching through various profiles, locations, events, and dates make it possible to identify who was involved, what occurred at that time, and what everyone remembers through their online conversations.
It’s not unusual for people to forget important details of an incident immediately after they occur, only later to recall more details after the initial shock of the incident is over, and then share those details on social media, or with an associate that will in-turn share the comment on social media.
Every situation will be different and will affect how the investigation is handled. Knowing how to connect the dots through social networks, communities, and other open source media can and will reveal new information. You just need to conduct your investigation methodically, and leave no stone unturned.
We hope all of these hints at how to conduct thorough online investigations are helpful to our readers, both customers and prospects alike. We do as a company want to make one point exceptionally clear at this juncture. What good is it to have done all the work and discovered all you need to know and present to your clients if you do not properly capture the content in a way that is proper and will stand up in court. We have seen reports of many cases of social media evidence being tossed to the side because the capture could not be validated and was suppressed by opposing counsel. It is imperative that proper methods and techniques are used every single time and include all corresponding metadata. Failure to do so can cost you and your client the case. Social Discovery does this with each and every report we deliver every single time so you can rest assured that all the information that we deliver to you meets the bar every time.
With minimal information about your claimant, an online search can begin and possibly lead to much more information about them that can benefit your investigation.