Social media platforms have emerged as a powerful tool for communication in recent decades. Considering the volume of data collected daily, it’s no surprise they have also become a useful source for researchers and investigators working on various insurance and non-insurance related matters. As reliance on these platforms continues to grow, there will be greater opportunities to uncover new information and verify facts. However, properly accessing and gathering information on social media platforms is not a simple task that can be accomplished by everyone.
There is a commonly held belief that locating and documenting information from social media platforms is straightforward. While it is true that these platforms are, by and large, open to the public, effectively conducting research and analysis goes far beyond a simple search. There are various challenges and limitations that researchers face when undertaking a social media investigation. These challenges often emerge through the three common phases of a social media investigation.
Phase 1: Locating information
Knowing where to search and what to search for is the first step. Consider a scenario in which you are attempting to find information on an individual with a very common name and few identifiers, such as “John Smith,” or a scenario where the individual uses an online alias that is different from their legal name. Alternatively, a researcher may be tasked with uncovering the identity of an anonymous account. How would you confirm that the individual you are investigating is in fact the correct target? Where would you begin your search? How many search engines would you utilize? Are the sources equally trustworthy? In cases like these, specialized research skills are essential, as they reduce the chance for error. They can also prevent an investigation from dragging on longer than necessary, which can be costly.
Phase 2: Analysis
The analytical phase of a social media investigation poses another challenge. Effective information analysis depends mainly on the researcher’s expertise, as well as their analytical and comprehension skills. Researchers must be able to think critically and determine the relevancy of the information collected to the case at hand, all while remaining objective and maintaining an independent mental attitude. The key is to distinguish between relevancy and immateriality while remaining impartial. Critically analyzing the information to produce coherent findings that will be actionable is the basis of a proper investigation.
Phase 3: Preservation
Preservation while maintaining the authenticity of findings is perhaps the most critical phase of any investigation. A researcher may uncover significant information throughout the course of their investigation; however, failure to properly document and communicate those findings will invalidate their significance. In fact, it may discredit the entire investigation and damage the potential admissibility of findings. Preservation of findings is more than simply copying and pasting text or a photo into a document. The preservation process should incorporate appropriate methodologies to maintain the authenticity and integrity of those findings.
There are several questions to consider when conducting an investigation, including:
- What are the search filters, and how can they assist?
- Why might relying on one search engine be insufficient?
- Why it is effective to exclude articles and pronouns?
- When is it appropriate to request metadata?
- What is the time limit for research?
- What information can be recovered once it has been deleted?
- When and how can internet archival tools be used?
- Is it possible to achieve total anonymity on social media?
- Can a researcher access social media profiles that are not open for the public?
- Can the collected information be validated and verified for accuracy?
- How can one ensure they have thoroughly completed an effective investigation?
- If required, is the researcher qualified to testify on their findings?
While most platforms are open to the public and virtually anyone can search for a profile, it takes a certain amount of expertise to properly leverage the investigative power of social media. Having the right resources and expertise can make or break an investigation — whether it relates to an insurance claim, allegations of criminal conduct, a pre-trial litigation dispute, defamation matter, trademark matter, asset recovery or simply a background search.
Online and social media investigation is one of the specialized services that Sedgwick’s research and intelligence division offers. Our experts have completed social media investigations on various insurance and non-insurance related matters — circumventing the challenges noted above and delivering admissible facts and non-biased findings. Our experts’ findings have been admitted in discoveries and trials, and our experts have also been called to testify on their findings. Regardless of the nature of the cause, we provide a full range of investigation services to meet your needs. To learn more about our investigation services, visit our website or read our flyer.