There’s no denying that we live in an increasingly digital world. In today’s day and age, an individual’s presence on social media platforms gives us a snapshot of their life, and in some cases, it can provide investigators with pieces of evidence they need to provide valuable information to clients. Believe it or not, social platforms are no longer used for simply connecting with friends or sharing photos. They are now an indispensable asset to the court system used as digital evidence, and a secret weapon for companies to use when investigating wrongdoing, vetting candidates or even reference checking. Unlike old-fashioned investigation, social media investigation can help companies gather information about an employee or candidate unlike ever before. Learn more about why social media is such an important aspect of modern-day private investigations.
What is a social media investigation?
A social media investigation is exactly how it sounds: a method of private investigation that examines an individual’s social media accounts, social media posts and overall online presence as part of a private or corporate investigation. They can be used to investigate a personal injury incident, gather evidence in insurance fraud cases, and even be used for comprehensive background checks.
Ultimately, social media is an extremely useful tool for a private investigator firm to use in developing a case. While anyone can simply browse another individual’s social media accounts and presence, private investigation services provide a more detailed account of the individual’s social media use. Using specialized software, private investigators are able to gather a wealth of knowledge and information to be used in an insurance fraud investigation, to gather incident scene photographs and witness accounts, and even complete background checks.
What are the benefits of a social media investigation?
In the corporate world, a social media investigator can give hiring managers and business owners peace of mind before hiring a new employee. Social media investigations can discover any troubling information about a candidate prior to being hired. It can also help identify if a current employee is using social media to reveal trade secrets, or to investigate a fraudulent claim made by an employee.
Which social media platforms do private investigators use?
Social media investigations are typically conducted on popular platforms as a starting point. Private investigators may use the following platforms for evidence gathering, including but not limited to:
Within these social media platforms, a private investigator will look for a number of different things based on the unique case at hand. Facebook offers a number of post options from status updates to photos to videos that can all provide information and descriptive photos to be used as assets during an investigation. They can search page posts to uncover information about a person’s friends and associates, personal life and interests, political beliefs and so much more. Not only will investigators examine what the person in question posted, but they will also review any comments, replies, reactions, photos, videos and notes. They can determine past attended events, groups they belong to and much more.
A competent investigator may scroll through someone’s photos to look for a common location, interesting photo comments or other details. However, a skilled investigator knows that social media images contain a multitude of information that is much more than meets the eye.
The Importance of Metadata in Social Media Investigations
An investigative firm may use software to gather metadata from social media images to use as essential evidence in a court case. So, what is metadata? Metadata is a range of information embedded within an image or post that reveals a timestamp of when the photo was taken, the location, rights information and more. In fact, behind just one simple tweet there is about 144 fields of metadata that can be used to benefit an investigation.
Metadata assists in E-discovery evidence gathering by providing descriptive information that can be used in legal proceedings. Essentially, metadata acts as foolproof physical evidence in a case — especially if a suspected person attempts to delete any posts during an investigation. The metadata gathered during the investigation will remain, which is why it’s simply not enough to take a screenshot or save a post for reference.
Metadata will be required to prove that any social media evidence is accurate — otherwise investigators risk the evidence being thrown out by the court. To protect and maintain evidence even further, it’s recommended that investigators preserve the digital chain of custody. The digital chain of custody refers to a document that states when a document was produced, and provides a record of the webpage in question. This prevents any accusations of altered images and preserves the dignity of any digital evidence.
Investigators may also use search engines like Google or Bing to find additional information that may not be available within the social media platforms. By using reverse image search, investigators can unearth old dating profiles, personal blogs, past employers or online forums and more. With other social media platforms like TikTok bursting onto the scene, private investigators will likely continue to evolve their practices to suit changing trends and to gather more detailed evidence and assets for investigative purposes.
What kind of information is discovered through social media investigations?
There’s truly no limit to what can be uncovered during a social media investigation, especially with so many people actively engaging on their social media accounts. Below are just some of the information that can be examined by a private investigator during a social media audit.
How is social media evidence used?
Hiring a Private Investigator
If you feel a social media investigation could benefit your company, a private investigation firm is a great place to start. InQuest offers over 20 years of experience with a staff of seasoned investigative professionals in a wide range of disciplines. Our licensed personnel are well-equipped to handle all of your surveillance and social media investigation and mining needs. In fact, in the early 2000s, InQuest forged the way in the investigative industry by offering social media mining as an added client service. Our highly trained team of analysts are aware of the continuously involving search techniques to gather the information you need. We also examine activity patterns, tendencies and routines that assist our field investigators in scheduling surveillance for optimal results.