Investigator’s Guide to Instagram

What is Instagram?

With more than one billion monthly active users, Instagram has quickly become one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. Originally launched in 2010, Instagram became much more popular after it was acquired by Facebook in 2012. Instagram’s broad appeal has made it a valuable resource for investigators seeking key information on opinions and activities.

How does Instagram work?

Instagram is a photo and video sharing social media app that allows people to share a wide range of content including individual and group photos, videos, and stories. The app allows users to upload media that can be edited with filters and organized by hashtags and geographical tagging. Posts can be shared publicly or with pre-approved followers. Users can browse other users’ content by tags and locations and view trending content. Users can like photos and follow other users to add their content to a personal feed.

The use of the Instagram “story” is an extremely popular feature, allowing people to share many images and videos each day as a post for followers. This information can provide particularly valuable insight to investigators conducting background research.

Instagram Terminology

Like other social media platforms, Instagram has its own terminology. Below is a list of some of the most common terminology associated with the platform.

  • Bio – This is the biography on your profile. This is where you tell a little bit about yourself with photos, text, emojis, and hashtags./li>
  • Stories – This is a very popular feature that allows a person to post a public-facing photo or 15-second videos that automatically disappear from the feed in 24 hours.
  • Mention – This is how to get another person’s attention on Instagram. Start with the @ symbol, followed by their handle or name. Mentioning someone can take place in a variety of places including the bio, comments, and even stories.
  • Tag – When a person is tagged, the video or picture will show up in their profile. Tagging someone is different from Mention. A person can only tag a person on a picture or video.
  • IG Live – Instagram Live is a live-streaming feature. It allows users to go live to their audience instantly.
  • IGTV – This is Instagram’s latest attempt at long-form video. This includes all videos that are over one minute long.
  • Highlights – This feature allows a user to create a highlights reel of their best Instagram Stories and even bundle them into related categories or events.
  • Insta DM – This is Instagram’s own built-in messaging platform. This allows the user to directly message a friend with a picture or video.
  • Instagram Algorithm – This is the computer program that Instagram uses to analyze user behavior to influence everything users view and interact with on the platform.
  • Hashtags – This is a collection of words, letters, or a phrase preceded by the # symbol. When someone taps on a hashtag, they can see all the posts tagged using the given hashtag. You can also search by hashtag.
  • Explore – This is a tab that provides users with videos and images that are trending on the platform at that moment.

Who uses Instagram?

There are over one billion active monthly users on Instagram in 2021. There are 140 million Instagram users in the U.S.

  • Instagram users spend an average of 30 minutes per day on the platform
  • 71% of U.S. adults ages 18-29 use Instagram
  • 72% of U.S. teens use Instagram
  • 71% of U.S. businesses claim to use Instagram
  • Women use Instagram 56.5% more than men in the U.S.

Distribution of monthly active Instagram users in the United States by Age (as of January 2021)

Demographic information courtesy of Statista.

What is shared on Instagram?

Image posts are the most common post type found on the platform, with 95 million images uploaded every day. According to Instagram, over 500 million accounts use Instagram Stories every day. Furthermore, 45% of Instagram users prefer to use Stories to become aware of new trends and happenings. Instagram Influencers share videos and images to their large followings. More than 50 billion photos have been uploaded to Instagram to date.

How does one search Instagram?

With over 500 million active Instagram users, it can seem challenging to find the account of a single person. Instagrammers often use nicknames or abbreviations instead of their real names. But modern algorithms used by Instagram provide a variety of effective solutions to find people.

Instagram places a big emphasis on search and discovery of content. It’s one of the few social media platforms with a Search and Explore tab in its app. When conducting a search for a person on Instagram, potential matches are displayed automatically by the system through the “Discover People” feature. It is also possible to narrow the search by location in an option called “Places”. Because Instagram is a Facebook project, the accounts on both are often linked. This means that one can search on Facebook to see who is available on Instagram and what their username is on that platform.

Using existing contact information is one of the ways to find someone on Instagram without knowing their username. This is primarily done by searching for a telephone number. It is also possible to search for someone using an existing email address. This would not be done directly through the app but would involve looking up an email on Facebook or a search engine and connecting that information to an Instagram search.

For this Instagram section, Facebook no longer allows you to search phone numbers/email addresses which is why we use PIPL (obviously we won’t write that). That content also does not typically populate in a search engine search because they are no longer tied through the platforms. I don’t know if we want them to write this but we often have to use secondary and tertiary connections on Instagram to locate a subject due to Instagram’s limited search features.

After a person is located it is possible to use a map showing where photos were taken. By zooming in on the map a person can see where every picture was taken down to the level of individual houses. It is also possible to search followers’ lists, likers, and commenters on someone’s photo.

Is Instagram useful for investigations?

Yes! Instagram continues to grow in popularity and should be seen as an increasingly valuable platform for investigators. With more than 500 million daily users, there is the potential to uncover key information about nearly every aspect of a research subject’s life.

Effective searches on Instagram can be difficult for a layperson. The vast amount of data and other information can be daunting to sift through and analyze for the average person. Successful searches often require the attention of an expert. The expert analysts at SMI can locate, analyze, and preserve a person’s Instagram account without tipping off the subject of a search.

Using a third party to search social media and the web is a best practice for several reasons. It helps ensure that the subject is not tipped off or alerted to the search. The subject can be alerted through algorithms that suggest connections or show past search history. Partnering with a third party to conduct your searches can help protect your search.

The best way to retrieve hidden or deleted data is to capture it before it has been obscured or destroyed. SMI Aware specializes in locating and preserving internet evidence. Contact us today for help capturing that information.

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