Maintaining Privacy and Avoiding Bias in Social Media Investigations

Protected Privacy Laws

These days, most people live large portions of their lives “online.” While social media emphasizes “sharing,” there are still several areas where people expect – and are entitled – to maintain a measure of privacy. Financial information, such as credit card numbers and bank account information, are obvious examples.

With social media playing such a large role in our lives, there are legal issues to consider. Maintaining privacy over a person’s exact location is somewhat less obvious but potentially lifesaving to a stalking victim or someone attempting to escape from domestic violence. Casually snapping and posting photos of friends chugging beer may seem innocuous but could result in lost job opportunities or even dismissal. Likewise, posting pictures of children without their parents’ permission can be especially problematic. Employing social media privacy safeguards helps reduce the potential for adverse consequences due to irresponsible posts.

Failing to recognize bias can prove detrimental to a legal case. A biased investigator could overlook potential suspects or pursue “suspicious” individuals who are innocent, wasting valuable time and resources.

Exercising diligence in avoiding bias is essential, especially in an investigation. Failing to recognize bias can prove detrimental to a legal case. A biased investigator could overlook potential suspects or pursue “suspicious” individuals who are innocent, wasting valuable time and resources. Misjudgment of witnesses or tipsters could cause investigators to miss valuable information that could make or break a case. Investigators need to recognize their own biases in investigations. 

Regardless of the stance on privacy, an unbiased and ethical approach needs to be taken when gathering data. The use of substitution is an effective strategy against bias in data collection. Inquiring whether alternate actions or perceptions would be associated with a different person or place or situation can reveal whether bias is involved. Likewise, seeking a second opinion from a trusted colleague can either provide assurance that data collection is being conducted objectively or reveal unconscious biases.

Outsourcing social media and online data research with a reliable third-party professional service, like SMI Aware, can reduce the risk of bias. As a third party, a professional can pursue an investigation objectively and ethically, with data gathering procedures that are reliable, effective, and repeatable. It is a smart investment that can yield significant bottom-line savings.

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