Help! The evidence I need is gone!

“Can you do anything to recover deleted posts? Everything is gone!”

Our office gets a call like this every few days. Unfortunately for the hopeful PI or paralegal on the other end of the line, there usually isn’t much we can do after content is taken down.

Although it depends on the site, once a post, profile or webpage is gone, it’s often gone forever.

Still, there are rare cases when it’s possible to recover deleted information. This blog post will help you determine if you still have a chance of recovering the content.

Facebook

“Their Facebook profile is gone!”

When a person decides it’s time to pull their Facebook profile down, they have two options: temporarily deactivating it or permanently deleting it.

If a person has merely deactivated their Facebook account, you might still be in luck. When someone deactivates an account, they are simply making it inaccessible for a period of time. They have the option to go back in at any time and restore their profile, and they can even set a date for the profile to reactivate.

If you’re very lucky, the subject may decide on their own to reactivate their account. They can also be court ordered to reactivate their account and hand over the information.

If a person has deleted their Facebook account, that action is permanent. All of their posts, messages, photos, likes, etc. will be permanently deleted from Facebook’s servers within 90 days.

Facebook has specific guidelines for law enforcement authorities who need to access hidden or deactivated information, but this is not an option for most of our customers.

“The Facebook is still there, but I can’t see anything!”

Many social media researchers know the awful feeling of finding the perfect piece of evidence on Facebook, only to have it disappear from the profile hours or days later.

If this happens to you, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the content still exists. The bad news is that you probably can’t get to it.

Often, users have simply changed their privacy settings so that their content is hidden from public view. If you happen to be friends with that person, you may still be able to see the content. (Note: SMI will never send a friend request or login to another user’s profile in order to access content.)

If a person has deleted a post, it is still possible for that person to access it by downloading their Facebook information. However, since only the owner of the profile can get this information, this is only useful for investigations if you have a very cooperative subject or – more likely – a court order. See this Social Media Subpoena Guide for tips on trying to subpoena private content.

Instagram and Twitter

Check the Third Party Sites

Posts deleted off of Instagram and Twitter are often lost forever.

However, in rare cases, the social media posts or photos you’re looking for may be stored on a third party site. This is most commonly a possibility with Instagram and Twitter, because these sites have numerous third party sites that mirror their content and may keep that content up even after the user has changed their privacy settings on the original site.

Look for Retweets, Mentions & Tags

For Twitter, remember that you can search for tweets that were quoted or retweeted by other users. You can also access tweets that other people sent to your subject, which can be useful in some cases.

On both Instagram and Twitter you can search for hashtags related to your subject to find posts by their friends.

Other Webpages

Search The Internet Archive

Compared to social media, finding old website content is relatively easy.

If you’re not familiar with archive.org, you should be. The Internet Archive is a nonprofit that was founded to build an Internet library. It has an unfathomable amount of content stored, including video, audio, journals, concerts and software.

The part of the site that is most useful for investigations is the Wayback Machine, which has saved nearly half a billion webpages. Simply copy the url into the searchbar, click “Browse History,” and you will be able to quickly determine if the site has saved any useful snapshots.

If the Wayback Machine doesn’t give you any results, you can also check to see if Google has cached a previous version of that page.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Gone

The best way to avoid losing evidence is to preserve any social media account or webpage that could be useful as soon as you find it.

If you’re looking for a fast, cost-effective solution, consider using SMI as a trusted third party for preserving your evidence. While we are often unable to recover deleted posts, we specialize in locating and preserving internet evidence.

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