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Social Media Investigation Series (Part 1): Locating Accounts on Social Media

The internet & social media (SM) have become so pervasive in our society that it has changed the way we do almost everything! As of April 2018, Facebook had approximately 2.2 billion monthly active users, not to mention the billions of others on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Snapchat and hundreds of other similar sites. In the U.S. it’s estimated that 80%-90% of teens and adults are on Social Media. With SM usage this high, chances are likely that the parties involved in your case are on SM. Add to that the fact that even if someone isn’t on SM someone close to them most likely is, which means photos and other information about that person are still available.

In this series of articles, to be published over the next several months, we will cover the Ins and outs of social media & online Investigations. They will be presented as follows:

  1. How to locate accounts on social media
  2. How to locate content on the surface web & deep web
  3. How to lay the foundation and authenticate internet based evidence
  4. Legal issues that arise when using social media or internet evidence in court

How to locate accounts on Social Media

It is a blessing & a curse that so many people are on SM, because finding the right person can sometimes be like finding a needle in a haystack. Always start by searching the individual’s name with the site search tool, but if you can’t find your subject’s profile, try the following:

  • Search by their nickname, middle name and name variations (i.e. Joe, Joseph, Joey).
  • Locate an account for a known friend or relative with an uncommon name and search their friends list to backtrack your way to their account.
    • If you’re dealing with a private friends list, look at who has “liked” their public posts
  • If you know about a username/screen name they use on one platform (i.e. surfdude12) try searching that in google and on other platforms as well. People are creatures of habit and usually use the same username across multiple platforms.

Keep in mind that these are just a couple quick tips to get you started & there is much more that can be done. Also remember that just because someone sets their SM account to private doesn’t mean it’s actually private & with the right tools and knowhow- there is nothing that is untouchable on social media.

A final tip; while conducting your own social media investigations, never use your own personal account. There are several ways social media platforms use to notify their users when someone has visited their page. This means if you’re using your personal accounts, they may become aware of the investigation & have a window into your personal life, which is never a good thing.

Stay tuned for the next installment on how to locate content on the surface web & deep web!

*This series was originally published in the San Bernardino County Bar Bulletin*

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