Investigations in the Age of Geosocial Data
At the 2016 Illinois Self Insurers’ Association 38th Annual Educational Seminar and Membership Meeting, Michael Teri and Garrett McGinn from DigiStream Investigation discussed investigations focused on social media research.
When investigating an auto accident, they search for social media posts that were geo-tagged in the area at the time of the accident to see if anyone happened to take pictures of the accident. Geo-tagged posts can also help you locate a claimant who has gone missing. These tags can show you everywhere a person “checked in” and where they posted multiple times.
Reviewing geo-tags from courthouses can show very significant information related to the jury selection and trial process. You can also make it possible to review social media posts taking place from the courthouse, which jurors are not supposed to do.
Geo-tagging also allows you to identify when people are posting content from a restricted area where this activity is not allowed. This assists with concerns around security and privacy. Investigative journalists are starting to use this capability to aid in their investigations.
People like to post their activities on social media, so this provides an opportunity to use social media for an investigation. One of the challenges can be making sure you are looking at the correct person’s social media profile. This is especially tricky on Twitter where people don’t have to use their real name. If you have the claimant’s email address, this helps significantly when it comes to identifying social media profiles because many platforms allow you to search for someone based on their email address. The claimant’s cell phone number is also helpful in identifying their social media accounts.
Capture Date vs. Post Date
One of the challenges of social media postings is that people may take a picture then post it later. The friend comments can assist with this as they may tell you when the activity took place. There can also be clues in the video to add context. However, if the claimant insists that the pictures or videos they posted were from a time in the past, this can be difficult to overcome unless you can provide evidence to the contrary.
Often times claimants will lock down or delete their social media content on the advice of an attorney. If you find something on social media, it is important to save that information in case it becomes inaccessible or deleted at a later time. This can mean that you need to screen shot thousands of pages of information.
Reviewing a claimant’s social media postings will give you an idea of what times they are active if you are considering traditional surveillance. Look for the times they are posting on Twitter or Instagram indicating they are visiting different locations to assist in scheduling.
They have a 93% success rate in locating some type of social media content online for an individual. The average age of subjects investigated was 48, so it is not just young people who are using social media. About 50% of accounts have some level of privacy restrictions on them, but this does not necessarily preclude a social media investigation.