There is a growing trend of investigators mining the Internet and social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) for evidence.
With these social media platforms, a user can create an account, provide specific details about their life – such as schools attended, past and present employers, hobbies, sports, and interests – and become networked to other individuals who share similar backgrounds or interests.
The popularity of social sites make it easy for investigators to find information about the individuals who use them. Relevant social media evidence can include photographs, status updates, an individual’s location at a certain time, and direct communications. For example, a person’s online profile might provide valuable information, such as pictures of a new house or other items that a subject likely cannot afford, as well as evidence of assets that the subject has not disclosed.
Investigators can also use social networking sites to:
- Investigate complaints
- Discover potential witnesses
- Research the accused
- Learn about the accusers
Social media platforms can be searched the same as traditional websites. Although information can be found using traditional search engines, an entirely different category of search engines has been designed specifically to find information within social networks.
Investigators must be careful about how they access information posted on a social media site. If an investigator cannot access the information due to privacy restrictions, they might be able to petition the court to compel disclosure of the information. Courts can order parties to produce social networking sites as evidence or order a user to give information from their social media page to the opposing side. Nonetheless, without some legal process, accessing information on a social site with tight privacy settings is a monumental task.