Social Media Evidence: Where to Look and Protocols to Follow

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By Lindsay Gill

As a digital technology expert, it is fascinating to observe how today’s technology-centric world obsesses over anything and everything digital – especially social media. From sharing locations on Instagram and Facebook to live tweeting events, people constantly update their friends – and strangers, if their account is public – on their every movement.

Social media networks are an exceptional method to stay connected with friends and family, but to a forensic investigator social media is a treasure trove of intelligence in a fraud investigation. From the basic share of information, such as a status update or photo, to the searchable metadata connected to social media posts, like timestamps and geo-locations, the forensic examiner can dive deep to connect the dots. Other publically available information to aid in the search includes the suspect’s check-ins, comments, reactions (likes or Facebook emotions), retweets, locations, photos and friends or followers.

An abundance of information is available on social media that can be useful to an investigation, but two hurdles are important to note: the easily editable format of social media, and the ethics of obtaining the information legally. The volatile nature of social media makes it relatively easy to edit or delete the content. While numerous online archive sites preserve the original content they do not capture all social media accounts.  A letter of preservation is critical to decrease the opportunity for the suspect to delete any evidence.  One or more of the many available tools to capture and authenticate suspicious activities and content on relevant social media accounts can also be helpful.

Evidence from social media should only be obtained ethically and legally, otherwise it may be deemed inadmissible in a court of law.  It is unethical to “follow” or “friend” the suspect or their acquaintances.  Likewise, any information obtained should only be publically available.  To ensure the evidence is obtained ethically and legally, it is wise to employ a forensic technology expert to assist in the capture and authentication of any sensitive and fragile data.

If you are interested in learning more about how fraud examiners can use social media in investigations, or want to learn more about our services and our team, please contact us.