Investigator’s Guide to Facebook

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The Investigator’s Guide to Social Media introduces popular social media platforms and how information shared on these platforms can benefit investigators. In this installment, we’ll be discussing why one should be investigating Facebook. 

What is Facebook?

With more than 2.74 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the most widely used social media platform. Facebook users share aspects of nearly every facet of their lives – from family photos to career accomplishments and even romantic relationships. With that kind of reach, Facebook should definitely be included in your social media search strategy.

How does Facebook work?

Facebook was developed to allow users to “stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them,” according to the Facebook company website. Facebook users do a lot of sharing. This is just some of what happens per minute on Facebook:

  • 150,000 messages sent (as of 2017)
  • 3 million posts (as of 2017)
  • 147.000 photos uploaded (as of 2020)
  • 1.3 million pieces of content shared (as of 2017)

As of 2020, Facebook users spend an average of 58 minutes every day engaging with the platform. That translates to a treasure trove of content for investigators.

Facebook Terminology?

Just as all social media platforms do, Facebook has its own terminology. One important thing to remember is the distinction between personal Facebook profiles, Facebook Pages (usually for businesses and public figures) and Facebook Groups (formal or informal organizations). It’s also important not to confuse Timelines with News Feeds. The following is a list of Facebook terminology that is useful for investigators.

  • Timeline – a user’s Facebook profile that includes photos, posts and other elements
  • News Feed – a user’s home page on Facebook that can include photos and posts from Friends, news items and event notifications
  • Stories – Photos posted by users in a dynamic feed that appear for a limited time
  • Status Update – posts by users that can consist of activities, announcements, even a person’s mood at the moment
  • Friend – a user’s direct connections
  • Friending – the process of requesting or accepting a request to connect
  • Unfriending — breaking a connection with another user
  • Likes – feedback on Facebook posts. Formerly limited to “thumbs up,” now Likes can take the form of a range of emojis expressing a range of reactions, including anger.
  • Tag — Identifying one or more users by name in a photo or status update.
  • Page – Public profiles created by individuals (often celebrities), companies or organizations. Liking a Page is similar to Friending a user.
  • Follow – An alternative to Liking a page, following allows users to see updates from an individual’s or organization’s Page
  • Group – There are three types of Facebook Group: public, private and secret.
    • Public groups — and their members can be found in searches
    • Private groups can be found in searches – but not their member lists
    • Secret groups cannot be found in searches – members must be invited by other members

Who uses Facebook?

As of 2020, 69% of all adults in the United States use Facebook. The percentage of adult internet users globally who use Facebook is even higher.

  • 82% of 18–29-year-old internet users
  • 79% of 30–49-year-old internet users
  • 64% of 50–64-year-old internet users
  • 48% of 65-year-old and older internet users

What is shared on Facebook?

Users share a variety of content on Facebook, including status updates, photos, videos and events (typically by Pages or Groups). Below are just a few statistics relating to shared content on Facebook as of 2020.

  • Almost 35% of Facebook content is photos; 15% is videos
  • As of October 2020, Facebook users averaged 12 post Likes, 5 comments, 1 share, and one Page Like
  • Users between 35 and 44 years old give the most monthly post Likes
  • Users between 45 and 54 years old give the most monthly post comments

How Does One Search Facebook?

Facebook accounts are free. Each individual is limited to one personal account per email address, although individuals can create multiple Pages. Once an account has been created, it’s possible to search for individual people, groups, pages, events, hashtags and other elements from the Facebook search bar. The Facebook search function can be a rich source of information for individuals and groups.

However, depending on an individual user’s privacy settings, you may need to be a friend or a follower to access certain items. Using privacy settings, users can disable other users from tagging them in photos. Changes in Facebook and Google algorithms may also limit the ability to utilize the Facebook search function. That said, the following sites may be helpful for investigators attempting to dig deeper.

Is Facebook Useful for Investigations?

Absolutely! The majority of online evidence found by SMI analysts comes from Facebook accounts. Unless you are 100% certain that a research subject never uses Facebook, its inclusion in an investigation is an absolute must. The information available about nearly every aspect of a person’s life is worth the effort to unearth – and could be vital to your cause.

Nonetheless, all that information can be daunting to sift through for the average layperson. The expert analysts at SMI can locate, analyze and preserve any person’s Facebook account without tipping off the subject of a search.

If you are interested in conducting a social media search, please contact us for more information.

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