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Using social media in business investigations

Mar 01, 2022

Social media platforms can provide a wealth of critical information to a wide variety of organizations, from law firms doing pretrial preparation and jury selection, to insurance companies investigating worker’s compensation and personal injury claims, to human resources departments doing employee screening or following up on workplace harassment complaints.

Amid the explosion of hundreds of social media sites, it would be near impossible for an organization to manually gather the information they need from so many potentially relevant sources. This is where social media investigation services can help.  

Social media investigations use a variety of specialized search tools and techniques to help you gain actionable insights for business decision-making, wherever those sources exist online. For example, social media investigations can figure into larger organizational efforts when brand reputation is under threat, during a merger or acquisition or when pursuing competitive intelligence.

In addition, recurring, automated social media searches will help organizations identify and stay on top of negative press, irate customers or vendors, or disgruntled employees. Having this information at your fingertips helps you address potential issues in a timely manner.

Here are five ways that social media investigations are conducted for business or legal purposes.

1. Obtaining publicly shared information about an individual or topic

When a current or former employee is alleged to have spread information that damages the company or violates company policy, the human resources team may seek knowledge about what that individual may have said or posted on social media platforms. Using specialized tools, a social media investigator can investigate, identify, collect and preserve publicly shared information that’s relevant or important to a particular issue or organization.

For example, if an insurance company or employer needs to investigate the veracity of a worker’s compensation claim, investigating social media accounts to discover details about the individual — as evidenced by what they have shared online — could shed light about potential fraud or other relevant information.

Organizations may undertake these kinds of efforts in conjunction with legal counsel or law enforcement when an employee or former employee is suspected of violating policies or regulations,   committing fraud or breaking other laws.

You may be familiar with the occasional social media post in which individuals have literally showed themselves in the act of committing a crime. The damning post may turn out to be as straightforward as individuals bragging about the fraud they are committing. They fail to consider that posting something outside of their organization’s environment doesn’t prevent that organization from finding out about it.

People also sometimes inadvertently reveal details linking themselves to improper or illegal activities. 

Social media investigative tools and techniques can provide a wealth of information to either substantiate or disprove specific allegations or activity.

2. Accessing non-public information 

Relevant information on social media sites can be found in both publicly and privately shared content.  While specialized tools are able to capture publicly shared information, viewing and collection of privately shared information requires other approaches.

While employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy from the prying eyes of employers with regard to “walled off” content they post on social media, someone who believes they’ve been wrongfully accused of a misdeed might be likely to offer access to their accounts and private information to help clear their name. For example, a person accused of workplace harassment might wish to share access to certain content with human resources to prove their innocence. Even if they are not inclined to cooperate, a court could compel them to provide authentication information or access for their accounts.

While users may be quick to assume that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other public-facing platforms are the most important sites to be examined, activities on private social media collaborations sites like Teams, Yammer, Salesforce, Slack and Convo may have even greater value in workplace investigations and can be easily searched by investigative professionals using specialized tools.

3. Identifying information across accounts or platforms

Specialized search tools can expeditiously discover all the platforms someone is on, even when their profile ID varies from site to site. The tools can ferret out public and private information about them. Today’s tools can unearth a relevant information from 12 years ago that even the most forthcoming subject of an investigation could easily have forgotten about or intentionally “overlooked.”

This search for multiple, common sources of information across platforms is important in background checks, especially for high-risk, high-visibility or critical roles. Collecting this hard-to-find data can provide a more comprehensive picture of a candidate than would otherwise be available using traditional sources and means.

Social media investigations are often performed at the request of legal counsel, including during legal proceedings to identify character information related to witnesses and potential jury members, the ability to support or disqualify testimony and potentially identify a person’s movements and associations. Easily searching across a wide variety of sites quickly can be advantageous for all interested parties.

4. Exploring the deep web

Much private information that’s important for businesses or government agencies conducting investigations is on private platforms that are not indexed by popular search engines for the “surface web.” Conversations on Teams and Slack are examples of the deep web and can only be discovered and retrieved using specialized tools equipped to search those walled-off parts.

5. Venturing into the dark web

This hidden web is best known for illicit activity and capitalizes on anonymity of its users.

But there are lots of legitimate reasons a business investigation would require searching the dark web. Financial institutions may need to track disclosure of account information or credit card numbers, often sold via the dark web.

Organizations with knowledge of nefarious sites may monitor them to assess if information relates to an upcoming or imminent threat. Social media investigations can identify information about planned protests or other civil unrest giving organizations time to implement plans for protecting their assets and employees.

How Wipfli can help

Unlike other types of information, social media data can be exceptionally challenging to collect and preserve. It takes trained professionals and specialized tools to pull data in a legal, ethical and defensible manner. Our specialists preserve unique metadata and digital fingerprints of everything collected, including logs of how data was obtained. Compliance and legal searches by an independent third-party allow you to present information found in social media to support or defend your case or claim.

Wipfli can help with searches of posts, direct messages, group chats, photos and videos and other content, with searches covering all three layers of the web: public, deep and dark. Remember to be aware of company policy, including legal reviews, with respect to investigations of individuals connected to your organization. Contact us to learn more.

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Author(s)

John Walther, EnCE, GCFE, GCFA, GSEC, OFE, CISSP, MCFE-AXIOM
Lead Cybersecurity Consultant
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