Peeling Back the Covers through Social Media
By Rose Ryan, Manager
Social media outlets are becoming an increasingly popular tool for many research professionals. These outlets not only provide a sophisticated and cost-effective way for individuals to enhance their business knowledge, they are a great way to conduct due diligence background research.
Social media is used as a tool in many types of investigations, including civil and criminal investigations, workplace violence, missing persons, asset traces, professional vetting, commercial lending research, and much more.
Some companies have asked job candidates to share their Facebook credentials as part of a background check. In recent news, however, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal has criticized employers for engaging in this type of practice. Blumenthal reports that his office has had numerous complaints from consumers regarding this issue. He, along with other groups such as American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, believes this type of vetting is a violation of the public’s privacy.
Additionally, and according to an article written by Rosa Golijan in Technoblog on April 9, 2012, (http://www.technolog.msnbc.msn.com/technology/technolog/cops-can-request-copy-your-complete-facebook-activity-686527), police officers can request a copy of a person’s Facebook log to look at his/her activity. And according to Facebook, they will provide this information to the police where it is appropriate and/or where it might ensure the safety of others.
The fact is that 96% of people under age 30 have joined a social network. Facebook leads the pack with more than 500 million users; blasting over 60 million status updates daily. LinkedIn, a professional network site, has more than 100 million users. Twitter, which is more like an open-ended yet public text message, follows closely behind with over 75 million users and they are growing daily. Additional sites which can be used as tools for social media and/or online investigative research include, but are not limited to, the following: www.google.com/blogsearch, www.pipl.com, www.peekyou.com, www.spokeo.com, www.bebo.com, and www.icerocket.com.
What’s out there
Information which can be obtained on these sites ranges from the simply obvious to the purely personal. People are talking and we, as forensic investigators, are listening. We are “hearing” angry co-workers publically criticize their companies and/or co-workers, oftentimes posting confidential or private information.; subjects of asset and/or lifestyle investigations are sharing their everyday whereabouts through posted communication as well as photos; students are bullying their peers; professional resumes are open to the public revealing items such as timelines, previous employment, directorships and much more.
Another useful source in obtaining vital information for a low cost is GeoTagging. Geographical identification ‘metadat’ is added to items such as pictures, videos, SMS messages and more. This process will assist the user in determining location specific information. For instance, smart phones implant a GPS stamp called “geotag” into their photo images. The ‘geotag’ identifies the precise location of where the photo was taken through coordinates which are rooted in their coding. When a person shares those images in social media sites such as those identified above, their location is accessible.
The following are a few actual case scenarios:
Marcum was retained by a prestigious international law firm to conduct background research on an experienced international attorney who claimed to have influential clients all over the world. Although this attorney claimed to be world renowned, we felt there were significant holes in his business claims. With the initial use of social media outlets such as LinkedIn, and many others, we were able to contact a wide array of former colleagues of the subject to determine if these client relationships actually existed.
Marcum was retained by a national law firm to assist their client in a search of his birth parents. Professional investigative databases were valuable, social media played a large role in the research, as well. Utilizing a small piece of information provided by the client about a business relationship of the probable parents, Marcum professionals were able to track the ancestry link through the business relationship.
A vast amount of information is publicly accessible for minimal or no cost. Some is reliable. A great deal is not! While initial research may seem interesting at first, it must always be kept in mind that information is only as good as the source in which it is derived from.
For some, what they see is what they believe. This is not always the case. Knowing what to do with this information, where it may lead to and deciding how much of it is “valuable” is where a professional can be most effective.
*Source: Socialnomics, Eric Qualman, Wiley Pub. 2009