With social media and internet activity becoming an integral part of many types of investigations, organizations are finding the information they need to help their cases by seeking out their subjects’ online interactions. If you’re in a business that conducts background investigations using social media and web searches, there are some important factors to consider before pursuing it on your own.
One of the first things most of us do when we want to find information about a person is Google them. Today, “Google” has become a household term, as both a noun and a verb, and virtually everyone with a computer knows how to use the popular search tool and others like it.
Despite the high capacity and skills of Google and other search engines, when you’re searching for people and content, these engines are only presenting a fraction of what is available –perhaps as little as 1% of existing online content. This content is what is called the “surface web,” and it consists of things most of us normally do on the internet every day. But the web goes much deeper.
As outdated websites and social media platforms fizzle out of existence, much of the information they once contained is archived somewhere online. While old information gets pushed further down by newer data, it never goes away completely. Try exploring the Wayback Machine for some real-time examples.
The Layers of the Web
The internet is comprised of layers, some being easier to access than others. For surface web information, search engines “crawl” the web to find and index websites. If a site owner doesn’t want a page indexed by search engines, they can take simple steps to prevent it. This action makes some data harder to find with traditional search engines that merely scour the surface layers of the web.
With a more intensive search and the right tools, you can find data and information not easily found with traditional search engines in a second layer known as the deep web. There are several ways to explore this realm. Many deep web search sites require a paid subscription and credentials to access this data. Using such software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms to source data can still leave many stones unturned if you don’t know how to use these tools to their fullest potential.
Further down, the Dark Web is a smaller section of the Deep Web that is intentionally hidden from casual browsers and requires a special browser to access it. This area of the web is not indexed by web crawlers or even searchable with everyday web browsers, therefore making it an anonymous space. While surfing the Dark Web with complete anonymity may sound appealing, there are many risks involved with plunging into the dark net space. Hidden in its depths one can find everything from peer-to-peer sharing networks to a plethora of illegal activity, thus making it a dangerous place for novice users. Searching this particular part of the web isn’t generally useful for social media investigations.
You Need an Expert!
With social media searches, many layman investigations end with a screenshot capturing information that the researcher mistakenly feels is good enough to present as evidence in a case. Aside from the fact that this doesn’t address the preservation and admissibility of the data, this method also leaves out the metadata that’s relevant to tying the evidence to your case.
For example, Facebook is one social media platform that provides metadata fields that help tie the user to the evidence. These fields include post creation time, all the recipient names of a sent message, the application or device used to post the evidence, and the user’s account ID.
Without a solid background in conducting web and social media searches to ferret out such useful information, it’s easy to see why DIY methods are both time-consuming and cost-bearing activities. It’s also worth noting that inexperienced users run the risk of exposing their identity to the subject of the investigation, affording them the opportunity to hide their content. With the help of a certified social media intelligence expert and professionals that specialize in the appropriate and ethical garnering of data, your firm will save both time and money. You’ll also benefit by having preserved and admissible data.
SMI has the expertise and tools to reach deeper into the web. Our analysts customize the investigation to fit the scope of your needs, ensuring accurate and consistent data from all sources. Talk to one of our experts today to see how our services would benefit your firm.