So­cial me­dia – a trea­sure trove for in­ves­ti­ga­tors

Jamaica Gleaner - - SOMETHING EXTRA - Collin Green­land Con­trib­u­tor an­dre.poyser@glean­


THE USE of so­cial net­work­ing (or so­cial me­dia) is now phe­nom­e­nal both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally as the use of Web-based and mo­bile tech­nolo­gies has turned com­mu­ni­ca­tion into in­ter­ac­tive di­a­logues.


Ac­cord­ing to Link Hu­mans, of the 7.2 bil­lion peo­ple on Earth, 3 bil­lion have In­ter­net ac­cess; 2.1 bil­lion are ac­tive on so­cial me­dia; and 1.7 bil­lion use so­cial net­works from a mo­bile de­vice.

Fifty-two per cent of on­line adults now use two or more so­cial me­dia sites, ac­cord­ing to Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

The num­ber of world­wide so­cial me­dia users is ex­pected to reach 2.5 bil­lion by 2018, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tica.

Ninety per cent of adults (ages 18 to 29) use so­cial me­dia. Thirty-five per cent of those over age 65 do. (Pew Re­search Cen­ter).

The “most im­por­tant” so­cial net­works to teens and young adults (aged 12-24) are now In­sta­gram (32 per cent), Twitter (24 per cent), Face­book (14 per cent), Snapchat (13 per cent), and Tum­blr (four per cent) (Mary Meeker’s In­ter­net Trends).

The av­er­age so­cial me­dia user main­tains five ac­counts (Link Hu­mans).


Since so­cial me­dia is chang­ing the way hu­mankind com­mu­ni­cates in ev­ery way, it makes sense for in­ves­ti­ga­tors to re­gard it as a prime place to search dur­ing their fraud or other types of in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The dig­i­tal trail left by fraud­sters on their so­cial ac­counts, and oth­ers, sets the stage for in­ves­ti­ga­tors to con­nect the dots in ways that were un­think­able just a few years ago. So­cial me­dia has, there­fore, be­come a trea­sure trove for in­ves­ti­ga­tors, sav­ing time, cost, and sub­stan­tial ef­fort in col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion on sus­pects and other per­sons of in­ter­ests in all types of in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

How­ever, there are a few mat­ters that in­ves­ti­ga­tors must be aware of, so here are some point­ers:


While ob­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion from so­cial me­dia can be greatly ben­e­fi­cial to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it is cru­cial that in­ves­ti­ga­tors se­cure the data eth­i­cally and legally. It should only be in­for­ma­tion avail­able to the pub­lic, and it is of­ten deemed un­eth­i­cal to “fol­low” or “friend” the suspect or their ac­quain­tances. For ex­am­ple, most ju­ris­dic­tions, pro­fes­sions, and so­cial me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions pro­hibit or dis­cour­age “pre­tex­ting” — the use of im­per­son­ation or fraud to trick another per­son into re­leas­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion or any ef­fort or strat­egy in­tended to con­ceal some­thing.


Times­tamps and Geo-lo­ca­tions: For­tu­nately for in­ves­ti­ga­tors, so­cial me­dia users of­ten over­share their lo­ca­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties on their so­cial me­dia ac­counts. Even when they don’t over­share, some so­cial me­dia plat­forms pro­vide a plethora of search­able meta­data, in­clud­ing times­tamps and geo-lo­ca­tions, al­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors to more eas­ily con­nect the dots in in­ves­ti­ga­tions by giv­ing them more clues to sift through. Even if these clues are not ver­bally ex­pressed, pho­tos on some so­cial me­dia plat­forms con­tain ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion that can as­sist an in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s search.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors can also ob­tain ev­i­dence from pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion from the suspect’s friends and fol­low­ers lists, along with lo­ca­tions, check-ins, Face­book emoji (like, love, wow, an­gry, etc), and time­lines. Through these vari­ables, in­ves­ti­ga­tors have the op­por­tu­nity to build a time­line of events, con­firm an alibi, iden­tify re­la­tion­ships be­tween in­di­vid­u­als, or even lo­cate a sub­ject in real time.


In­ter­net Ar­chive:

While the so­cial me­dia in­for­ma­tion can point in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the right di­rec­tion, so­cial me­dia ev­i­dence can also cause le­gal is­sues due to its eas­ily ed­itable, or re­mov­able, na­ture. How­ever, there is soft­ware on the mar­ket that can be used to pre­serve ev­i­dence dis­cov­ered on so­cial me­dia.


For mat­ters in lit­i­ga­tion, a let­ter of preser­va­tion should be is­sued to in­clude all so­cial me­dia ac­counts to de­crease the chance that the per­pe­tra­tor deletes or hides the sus­pi­cious con­tent. To pre­vent los­ing the in­for­ma­tion, in­ves­ti­ga­tors must im­me­di­ately save all ev­i­dence by not­ing the link to the ac­counts and print­ing all ma­te­ri­als. There are sev­eral tools that in­ves­ti­ga­tors can use to record all ac­tiv­ity ap­pear­ing on screens, but it is cru­cial to au­then­ti­cate not only the ev­i­dence gath­ered, but also the meth­ods used to do so.


Pub­lic so­cial-me­dia pro­files are com­monly used in cer­tain types of in­ves­ti­ga­tions such as work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion and in­sur­ance claims in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Users in­ter­act in a ca­sual for­mat on so­cial me­dia and will tag or post in­for­ma­tion about them­selves and their friends or ac­quain­tances. It is wise to glean any in­for­ma­tion pos­si­ble from the suspect’s clos­est con­tacts such as fam­ily mem­bers, friends, or col­leagues.


When most think of so­cial me­dia, they think of these prac­tices as a light­hearted, en­gag­ing av­enue to keep in touch with con­tacts and to read up on the news. In­ves­ti­ga­tors, how­ever, also think of so­cial me­dia as a prime place to search dur­ing fraud or other types of in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

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