Online Investigations: What Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn Can Help You Find

From posting photos of dinner plates and new shoes to uploading videos from vacations, concerts and sporting events, people all over the world are recording their entire lives on social media sites.

Tweeting, posting, tagging, uploading, status updating and checking-in have become a daily routine for millions of Americans. 

This user generated data showing people’s activities, interests and whereabouts is a goldmine for investigators.  

In recent years, social media investigations have become a critical component of insurance fraud cases, health care fraud, social security fraud, stolen personal fraud and other types of fraud cases. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and even dating sites offer a wealth of information, including a real-time account of people’s activities.    

With a growing number of social media sites and millions of users, investigators have some very powerful tools at their disposal. Thanks to social media, police have caught criminals, lawyers have discredited witnesses and insurance companies have discovered claimants lying about their medical conditions. 

Every good investigation should include a thorough examination of the subject’s online activities, especially on social media. In this article, we will review four major social media platforms and how they can be a beneficial tool when researching a subject. 

#1 Facebook 

Who uses Facebook 

When it first came out, Facebook mainly attracted one type of audience – college students. Today, more than a decade later, the profile of the average Facebook user is very different. 

According to Pew Research Centre, Facebook users are getting older. Senior citizens in the US are the fastest growing group on the platform. In 2019, the so-called “silent” generation (users born in 1945 or earlier) had grown on the platform from 26% to almost 40%. 

What you can find 

Privacy settings apply to each section of a Facebook profile. Some information may be public, while other sections may be blocked. Each user is responsible for setting their privacy. Contrary to what you may think, only a small percentage of people enable maximum privacy settings on their social media accounts. This creates a valuable pool of free information for investigators. 

Depending on how open the profile is to the public, you may be able to look up someone’s friends list, what photos or posts they liked or commented on, as well as who is liking and commenting on their content. This allows you to view other people in their network. 

You may also be able to see someone’s employer, family members, political views, causes they support, websites, groups they belong to, pages they follow and like, birth date, education, anniversaries, maiden name and nickname. 

Facebook is a popular site for people to post photos and videos and update their status. This can provide valuable information about the subject’s exact location on a particular day and time. Often, people tag their friends when they check into places giving away their whereabouts. 

Searching Facebook can also reveal compromising photos or videos of the subject, like playing sports, dancing or doing other physical activities that they shouldn’t be. 

#2 Twitter 

Who uses Twitter 

More than 80% of Twitter’s global population is under 50 years of age. Although Twitter’s global audience skews male, in the United States the gender breakdown is 50/50 according to Pew Research Centre. The most active users tend to be women (65%) and, at the same time, they are also slightly more likely than men to have private Twitter accounts. 

What you can find 

Twitter is designed to be a public forum and as such, most Twitter accounts are public. Searching Twitter can show you who a person is following and who is following them, their tweets and conversations with other members on the platform. 

Some users link their other social media accounts to Twitter. In this case, photos, videos, check-ins and other information may be visible on Twitter. This may help you find additional social media accounts for the subject you are researching. 

#3 Instagram 

Who uses Instagram

Instagram is a visual social media channel. Mostly, people use it as a photo and video sharing app. There are more than 100 million photos uploaded to Instagram every day. According to Statista, 30% of global Instagram audiences are aged between 18 and 24. 

What you can find 

If the user’s account is public, you will be able to see photos, captions, hashtags, stories and likes on photos and videos. Photos and hashtags can provide clues about friends, locations, hobbies, activities and affiliations. 

#4 LinkedIn

Who uses LinkedIn

In the US, there are more than 167 million LinkedIn users. Although the site’s users vary in age, millenials make up a significant portion of LinkedIn’s user base. According to Statista, 87 million millennials worldwide use LinkedIn.

What you can find 

Most LinkedIn accounts are not protected as people use the site for professional networking, connecting and job searching. You can see the subject’s current employer and employment history, projects, groups, education and interests. 

You can also search through the person’s network, look at their connections, how they are connected to other members, who they have recommended and who has recommended them. Additionally, you can find out what companies they follow, as well as what posts and articles they are liking and sharing.

Other social media sites and networks that can help your search 

  • Pinterest
  • Youtube 
  • TikTok 
  • Classmates.com
  • Strava