A successful social media investigation has the potential to make or break any case. However, with an increasing number of both social media networks and users, how can one be certain that their social media investigation is accurate and complete?
Two-Thirds of Adults Use Social Media
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, social media usage has exploded among adults over the past decade. The study’s findings are highlighted by an incredible 90% of young adults who regularly share information on social media.
Nearly two-thirds of American adults (65%) use social networking sites, up from 7% when Pew Research Center began systematically tracking social media usage in 2005.
With so many adults actively sharing information on social media, there’s a good chance that information relevant to your investigation is available – if you can find it.
Identifying the Subject of a Social Media Investigation
While the recent explosion of social media usage provides researchers with a wealth of information, it also makes it more difficult for social media investigations to pinpoint the right profile. Eliminating false-positive results for your subject’s social media profile can prove to be a tedious task.
The following is a mixture of traditional and electronic identifiers used by SMI’s Certified Social Media Intelligence Experts to guide our social media investigations and eliminate erroneous results:
1) Full Name
Knowing the subject’s full name – first, middle, surname and suffix – is one of the most critical identifiers in a social media investigation. The inclusion of the subject’s middle name can be especially important when the subject was named after a relative as they may use it to differentiate themselves from their namesake. It may also be important that researchers are aware of maiden names if the subject changed their name when they married.
2) Date of Birth / Age
Age is a helpful identifier for eliminating false-positive identifications – especially for subjects with common names. Knowing the subject’s age may also lead the social media investigation to focus on different social media platforms. For example: a subject who is 50-years-old isn’t as likely to have a profile on Twitter as one that is 30-years-old.
3) Geographic Location
When available, the subject’s location – state, city, neighborhood and place of residence – can help investigators narrow their search. Additionally, knowing the subjects’ place of residence could reveal an association with the next identifiers on our list: relatives / associates.
4) Relatives / Associates
When trying to identify the social media information of individuals with a common name, having a list of close relatives / associates can eliminate false-positives. Moreover, knowledge of a relative / associate with a unique name can provide investigators with a circuitous path for identifying the subject’s social media profile.
5) Education & Employment History
Education & employment history go beyond helping to eliminate false-positive social media profiles. General information may include level of education or an industry; whereas specific details may include the institution and field of study and company and title. Furthermore, knowing an academic institution or workplace may provide the investigation with the next identifier on our list: email addresses.
6) Email Addresses
While a subject’s email address may have been used to create a social media profile, it can also provide investigators with additional information. Organization email addresses provide researchers with the subject’s place of employment or school and personal email addresses are often tethered to the subject’s chosen screen names / aliases.
7) Screen Names / Aliases
Screen names are a great identifier during a social media investigation as they are often used across multiple platforms. For example, users will often have the same account handle for both Twitter and Instagram.
Image analysis is a powerful identifier when eliminating false-positives and can also aid investigators in linking accounts across different social media platforms. (While tools like Google Image Search will allow one to perform a reverse image search, they are rarely helpful during social media investigations.)
9) Scope of Investigation
Scope is the most frequently overlooked area of a social media investigation. Without knowing the specific scope, analysts can only provide a general assessment of the subject’s online presence and activity. For best results, we suggest to that our clients provide us with the same background information that they would pass along to an internal investigator. This ensures that we start were the trail ends.
10) Expert Analysis
Expert analysis is the best way to insure your social media investigation is successful. Our CSMIE trained analysts are knowledgable – familiar with cross-referencing a variety of available identifiers to locate a subject’s social media profile – and our process maintains a digital chain of evidence.
So, how can you be certain that your social media investigation is both accurate and complete? Work with experts, provide them with context and as many detailed identifiers as possible. Remember, having the right information at your fingertips could lead to your subject’s social media profile – and information that could make or break your case.
Featured image taken by Josh Rose via Unsplash.