Social media today is a booming industry, to say the very least. It permeates our lives in ways some of us would rather not admit. At 37 years old, my teenage years in the 90s were filled with Friday night football games, cruising Main Street, hitting fast food joints with friends, and basement sleepovers playing Truth or Dare and watching movies. My world of technology consisted of one desktop computer for everyone in the home, a dial-up connection for the Internet (which was only used for school stuff and chat rooms), and borrowing my mom’s flip phone for my evenings out so I could be reached. There was no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat. It was definitely a simpler time.
Now our teenagers are inundated with social media platforms that pull them in 15 different directions all day and all night long. And it’s not just our teenagers. Some platforms, like Instagram and Snapchat, are more popular with the younger crowd. Others, like LinkedIn and Facebook, have more middle age participants. There is a medium out there for just about every age group, interest, and purpose. Most of us have heard of the popular ones, but there are many, many more that are used by millions of people every day.
The use of social media as an investigative tool by private investigators is relatively new, since social media itself hasn't been around forever. It is an ever-changing platform, but is here to stay, for now. With the millions of people on social media sharing their daily activities, opinions, photos, locations, and more, it would be silly to ignore the wealth of investigative information that can be gathered.
A social media investigation involves using various forms of social media to uncover a plethora of personal information about a subject or subjects. This typically includes, but is not limited to, photos, location information, opinions, political affiliations, friends, family, associates, events, personal details, and daily activities. An investigation includes top sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but also includes dating sites, blogs, and hundreds of other lesser known social media networks.
A social media investigation is more than just a scan through a subject's public Facebook posts. Sometimes, it is difficult just to locate a subject's social media profiles since they may be using an alias or aliases. Their profiles aren't always completely public. Maybe they've deleted incriminating content or deleted an entire profile altogether. Believe it or not, it is even worthwhile to search social media for investigative purposes when a target isn’t even ON social media. They are very likely to have friends and family with profiles that possess valuable information on them, even without the target’s knowledge. These are all reasons why it may behoove you to hire a social media professional to find details that would never be found otherwise. Social media content can sometimes very well be "the smoking gun" of a case. It can provide the one piece of evidence that clinches a case, finds a person, or keeps you from involving yourself with someone who would have likely taken advantage of you in some way.
A social media investigation can mean different things to different people. This type of investigation can serve many purposes, depending on a client’s needs. Some of the most common uses for a social media investigation are as follows:
- finding missing persons
- locating clients or witnesses
- identifying & collecting evidence of online activity
- developing leads
- uncovering a person's assets
- piecing together a person's daily activities
- determining an individual's connections, associations, friends, & family members
- collecting personal information on individuals
- proving/disproving an individual's claims
- building a character profile
- checking employee social media activity for company policy violations, unauthorized disclosure of company information, and/or misconduct/abuse of time
- providing supplemental to any background, domestic, divorce, child custody, employee, workers' compensation, or other investigation
- investigating stalking or harassment
- uncovering probation or other court order violations
- proving or disproving workers' compensation claims
- researching activities of competitors
- assisting in juror selection
- preparing criminal or civil litigation
- verifying claims made by customers
- vetting aliases
- conducting supplier/vendor/partner investigations
So as you can see, leveraging social media for investigations is not just smart business. It’s necessary. The type and amount of personal content people advertise on social media is truly an amazing thing and something that should not be ignored by investigators.