Social Media Investigations

Social Media is Changing the Way Cases are Investigated

By: Joseph Giacalone

When the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Better know nothing than half-know many things,” he may have been speaking to law enforcement regarding social media investigations. Currently, there are several social media platforms that investigators must learn about and new ones that are being created everyday. Here is a quick plan on how a detective squad can stay on top of it all.

Social media has not only changed the way we communicate with one another, it has changed the way law enforcement investigates criminal acts. In the midst of the social media and mobile revolution, law enforcement has found itself at a seminal moment in the investigative process. The tactics being used are still so nascent that very few departments even have policies regarding the use of social media for investigations. The fundamental question for investigators is, “with so many platforms, where do we begin?”

Using social media for investigative purposes should be no different then how the police department use a division of labor to get the job done. We have specialists of every type: Sex Crimes, Robbery, Burglary and of course, Homicide Investigators. I understand staffing may be an issue in order to create what I refer to as a SMIT, Social Media Investigative Team, but detective supervisors must delegate responsibility of social media over the entire squad, who would then cross train each other.

Infamously, police departments have that one ‘Keeper of the Keys.’ If the ‘Keeper’ is on vacation or sick, nothing gets done. We don’t want to see this happen, so it would be a best practice to cross train everyone.

With so many platforms, where do we begin? When thinking about social media, investigators should initially focus on the ‘Big 5:

    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Google+
    • YouTube
    • Pinterest

Many investigators are already familiar with these platforms, however many more exist. Initially, detective supervisors should create two person teams to learn everything they can about a specific social media platform, and then train each other on what they have learned. If possible, two members should be assigned to track new social media sites that are trending. This way over time, the entire squad will know about what is hot and what is not.

It is also important to keep track of the ever changing law enforcement guidelines from the social media sites, how to access theme and how to contact them. Some social media sites require law enforcement to use a website, like Facebook, others have their own legal division. To get you started, the latest guidelines for Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest can be found in Tools and Resources on the LexisNexis Investigators Network.

Police departments must use OPSEC, keeping our secrets secret. When we divulge the methods and platforms that criminals use, they adapt faster then we do. They lock down their profiles, change their usernames and go further under ground, which makes the investigators job even more difficult. As the ‘Gangsta’ crowd realize that Grandma is on Facebook too, how cool will it still be?