Electronic Informal Investigation and Discovery
In recent years, the Internet and the public’s widespread use of social networking sites have changed the ways in which people communicate and share information about themselves. Social networking sites have given individuals the ability to learn more about their “friends” without directly communicating. People frequently post information on these sites about mundane aspects of their lives that they would probably not share with someone during a verbal conversation. This presents employers, claims adjusters, and attorneys with an opportunity to informally investigate workers’ compensation claimants and witnesses.
- 81% of agencies report the use of some form of social media
- 66.8% of agencies report having a Facebook page
- 62.3% of agencies report using social media for criminal investigations
- 40.0% of agencies report using social media to solicit tips
Other Reported Uses by Law Enforcement
- Digital “wanted” posters
- Twitter chats or postings used to monitor group conduct
- Fake profiles used to infiltrate organized retail crime rings, online crimes, and more
How Might You Use Social Media as an Investigative Tool?
- Investigating complaints
- Learning about complainants
- Learning about witnesses
- Learning about the accused
Why Investigators Should Pay Attention to Social Media
- 96% of people under age 30 have joined a social network
- LinkedIn has 150 million users; Twitter has 75 million users
- There are over 200 million individual blogs
- Facebook has over 1 billion active users
Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates launched Facebook on February 4, 2004. Initially, the service was limited to Harvard students, but it quickly expanded to other Boston-area colleges, Ivy League schools and then other colleges. In September of 2005, Facebook expanded to allow high school students, ages 13 and over, to join. Facebook finally became open to the general public on September 26, 2006. There is no fee to join this service.
Facebook is currently the largest social networking site. The average person has 120 “friends” with whom they share information. Perhaps the most interesting statistic about Facebook is that the fastest growing demographic of users is currently individuals 35 years old and older. Facebook profiles have areas of standard profile information, but users are not forced to provide anything more than a name and a valid e-mail address to join. Although users may adjust privacy settings, the default setting is to allow all users to search for you and view all content posted on your profile.
Currently, a Facebook profile may contain the following information:
- Profile picture
- A wall where the user and user’s friends can post short messages
- Status messages
- Wall posts from friends
- Activity tracking
- Friends in Common
- Info tab
- Basic information
- Contact information
- Likes and interests
- Photo albums
- Tagged photos
- Profile pictures
- Various third party applications
This type of information may be beneficial for loss-prevention and law enforcement officers. For example, a subject may regularly post status messages on his wall, identifying his daily activities. This information may identify where he is getting his merchandise, a possible shopping list or accomplices. Additionally, the subject may post information about his scheduled activities for the day, which may assist investigators in conducting surveillance.
Twitter was launched in 2006 and functions differently than social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. It is a micro-blogging service that allows users to post “tweets.” Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters that are displayed on the website and delivered to “followers.”
The interface for Twitter is remarkably simple. There is a search feature where you can find individuals by their name or e-mail address. Upon finding the user, you simply click their name to view all of their tweets. Users have the option of restricting access to their Twitter pages and can limit who is permitted to follow them. However, due to the simple nature of the site, it appears that most users allow public access to their profile. Twitter’s main focus is “news” thus it is extremely popular with news agencies and celebrities.
Founded in 2005, YouTube is one of the most popular video sites on the Internet today. Millions of videos have been uploaded and shared, ranging from movie trailers to amateur videos of cats – and everything in between. Anyone with an Internet connection can share content on YouTube, whether they are organizations with large budgets or an individual with a video camera. YouTube is owned by Google and is one of its most popular peripheral properties. YouTube was the first large-scale video-sharing site on the Internet, and it’s available in nearly every country in over fifty different languages. Anyone can upload content here, which makes for an astonishing array of watchable content.