When conducting a web search on a subject, it is most efficient to start with a simple name search. If the individual has a fairly common last name, try adding their city of residence to the search, their employer, or their spouse’s name if you have it, or any other information contained in your file that may yield positive results. One useful tip is to use double quotes (“search term“) if you want to search for a phrase. When searching Google, and is assumed between words that are not enclosed in quotation marks. If you would like to conduct a search using or between words, simply capitalize OR between each word. Double quotes can also be used when searching for a term on Yahoo. Yahoo allows users to add AND, OR, NOT, and AND NOT as long as the connectors are capitalized.
As you wade through the results, you may identify additional search terms as you learn more about the subject. Once you’ve completed the basic web search, consider running a search on social networking sites.
Searching Social Networking Sites
Since Facebook is currently the most popular social networking site, we will focus on how to conduct a complete search of a subject using that service.
After signing up for the service, it is a good idea to consider the privacy settings for your profile. If you do not plan to actively use the site for personal use, you may wish to leave the privacy settings on the default settings because anyone that searches for you would only be able to obtain your name.
A Note on Privacy Settings
For users who wish to alter the privacy settings to more restricted access, follow these steps.
1. Go to the Accounts tab on the top right after you sign in.
2. Select Privacy Settings
3. There are five sections of privacy: Profile Information, Contact Information, Applications and Websites, Search, and Block List.
4. To fully restrict your privacy, you must go into each privacy section and customize each option.
5. When available, select the “Only You” option which will allow only you to view that information.
6. There are sections where the most restrictive option is “Only Your Friends.” Selecting this option will ensure that only those people you have accepted as a friend can see your information.
7. The most important section to visit when altering privacy settings is the Search section. The default search setting allows for anyone that searches for your name in a search engine will be able link directly into your profile. Change this setting so that your profile is restricted from a public search.
Locating the Subject Profile
In order to search for a subject, it is important to understand that your access to information will depend in part on the privacy settings the user selected for their profile. However, useful information can be obtained from users’ restricted profiles if you know how to search.
Follow these steps to begin a basic search:
1. After signing on to Facebook, there will be a Search box in the top center of the screen. Simply type the subject name into the box.
2. If the subject has a fairly common name, you may be able to narrow your results by selecting a geographic area. Please note that narrowing someone down by a geographic area will only work if that individual has joined the geographic area you select.
3. If you review the search results but have no luck identifying the subject, consider setting your geographic region to the same geographic region the subject would have selected. Some individuals set their privacy settings to permit only individuals from the same geographic region to find them using a search.
4. Another option is to search by the individual’s email address. Take caution if no results are returned, as Facebook will ask whether you want to send an invitation asking them to join.
5. If you cannot locate the subject profile, consider using a search engine to identify the name of the subject spouse or children. Whitepages.com often provides the names of family members living in a household. If you can identify the names of family members, conduct a search to obtain their profiles.
Obtaining Evidence from the Profile
Once you identify the subject profile, the information you are able to collect will depend on the privacy settings set by the subject. On the subject profile you will see links across the top. Although the links will vary depending on the subject privacy settings, some common options are: Photos, Wall, Info, Friends, Events, Notes, Videos, etc.
The individual’s profile picture is posted in the top left of the page. Immediately below the picture you may find hyperlinks to “View Photos of .” By clicking View Photos, you will be taken to portion of the profile that shows tagged photos, photo albums, and profile pictures.
Tagged photos contain pictures that may be linked to photo albums uploaded in someone else’s Facebook. Note that when you click on a tagged photo, the name of the photo album and the name of the owner of the album is located on the bottom right of the picture. Since some individuals “untag” photos of themselves, click the hyperlinked photo album name to get access to all of the photos in that album. This will allow you to see whether there are any additional photos of the subject in the album that were not tagged.
Once you have looked through the entire album, you can sometimes select the link located on the top left of the photo that says either “Back to ’s Photos” or “ ’s Photos.” If there is sufficient access, you will be able to see additional photo albums that may contain photos of the subject.
As mentioned above, on the page you linked into by selecting the link under the subject profile picture, you may also find Photo Albums posted by the subject and profile pictures.
Please note that if the user has removed the link to view pictures, you may still be able to obtain photo albums of the subject by obtaining links to albums from the Wall feed which is discussed below.
The Wall Tab
Information available on the Wall will vary greatly depending on the user’s privacy settings. On a viewable wall, you will see information posted by the Profile owner and anyone else who has posted on the Wall. To filter the results there is a magnifying glass on the upper right side. Once you click it, three options will appear. Subject + Friends are the default view. Just Subject shows you posts made by the subject only. Just Friends removes all posts by the Subject.
The Wall may provide you with information about when the subject makes posts on other users’ walls. It may also provide you with information about items that have been added or subtracted from the user’s profile.
At the bottom of the Wall feed there is a light grey box with a link that allows you to view “Older Posts.” Do not forget to review the older posts, as it often contains useful information.
Under this tab, you will find links to background information, contact information, education and work history, groups, and pages.
If you click the links into the various groups and pages the subject belongs to, you may identify additional posts the subject has made on the group’s page.
The education and work history link may provide you with information about whether the subject is working somewhere else. If you select the hyperlink for the employer’s name, it will link you into other individuals that have listed the same employer.
On the profile, you will see a box on the left hand side titled “Friends.” If your subject is not an active user of Facebook, or if they have a restricted profile, do not forget to check out the links to their friends pages. To view all of the subject friends, select “See All.” Another box will pop up listing all of the subject friends. Sometimes individuals have over 400 friends, thus it may be necessary to narrow down the results. A search box will appear in the upper right hand corner.
First, try typing in the subject last name which will likely produce family members. TIP: Hold down Ctrl when clicking on the individual’s name to open that person’s profile in a new window. Review the different individuals’ pages to see whether they have posted anything about the subject, including photos and Wall posts. Also determine whether the subject has posted anything on the person’s Wall.
Second, if you have access to the subject Wall, you can identify individuals that post regularly. You may also be able to identify individuals that the subject spends a lot of time with. Search the Friend list for these individuals, and review their pages for information.
Third, if the subject has listed any family members under the Information tab, search Friends for these individuals.
Documenting Social Media Evidence
Properly Documenting Social Media Investigations
Always copy urls, because sometimes you can’t backtrack. Google updates its results constantly and with the more than 20 billion websites out there, you may never find the same info again.
• Take screenshots of content. (i.e. craigslist ads)
• Consider making use of CAMTASIA, a screen recorder and editing software program.
• Take Screen captures the fly
• Draw attention with arrows, add text
• Organizational tools – Search for your captures by date, website, or a custom flag that you create and assign.