The fall of Google+ is more evidence that Social Media never stops changing. Who remembers the names: Vine, Yik Yak, Stickam, or MySpace? Yes, they are all old and irrelevant social media sites! Google+ recently announced that it was turning off any support for its profiles in April 2018 *cue Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
This was one of Google’s multiple attempts at social media that never really took off. Even though they auto enrolled everyone with a Google account, it was never able to make a significant dent in the social media market controlled by the major players like Facebook, Instagram & Twitter. In our investigations over the last 5 years, “evidence” was only found on Google+ 2% of the time, and even then, a lot of what was located wasn’t especially relevant. Overall, there are hundreds if not thousands of different Social Media platforms that one can join! How does this affect us as Social Media Investigators? The only thing that we can truly count on is that social media is ALWAYS changing & evolving.
Social Media Investigators have to stay on top of these changes to ensure that all of the evidence is located, and we are painfully aware that what works today may not work tomorrow. This is the reason that a quick check of a subject’s online presence never shows the whole picture. It also is why using a Database search will often come up empty. Database software’s that “search and grab” are written to search by a code, for what is working at the time it was written, but when changes come and searches are disabled, these databases don’t change, at least not quickly (i.e. the changes resulting from the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook debacle or the data breach that caused Google+ to shut down).
The bottom line is that there is no substitute for live investigators, who know what they are doing. These continual changes happen suddenly and can create major problems for people relying on automated solutions. Being trained in the principles of how searching works, makes it so investigators can find other avenues to obtain the desired content, when the primary way is disabled. One example of this is that Facebook used to allow someone to be found through searching their phone number in the search bar. This was an excellent (although not well known) way to find accounts for an individual, regardless of the display name used on the account. Last year, that functionality was disabled; however, after having that resource cut off, we quickly adjusted and figured out a work around within days!
Within the last month, we had a case where a client had sent us a copy of database driven SMI report that they paid a decent amount of money for, which indicated that the subject had no social media accounts (which was likely based off of an outdated algorithm). Not only were we able to find accounts, we found those accounts contained mountains of case changing evidence.
One thing to understand is that we are learning every day. Each case that comes to us has its own unique puzzle pieces that we need to piece together in order to be successful. It would make things super easy if using the same method worked for each case, or if the same steps could be followed to find every person. But it’s not how it works! Having a live trained investigator who can adapt, problem solve, and adjust on the fly is the only way to keep up with the changing world of Social Media.