Thursday, June 19, 2014

Social Media for Investigative Professionals

Notes from presentation at SLA-2014, Vancouver, BC, Canada June 9, 2014

Social Media for Investigative Professionals
How to find people who don’t want to be found!
Presenter:  Julie Clegg, President, Toddington International Inc.

Prior to working at Toddington, Ms. Clegg worked for 10 years as a detective with the West Yorkshire Police in the UK.
Images are from her slides.

We are living in a digital world!

In order to be a competent, successful citizen, you need a new set of tools
                                                         -          Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center

The largest group of digital users is in Asia, but they constitute less than 30% of the Asian population.
North America and Europe are pretty saturated with 78% and 63% of the population already digital users.  Greatest growth potential is in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Digital use will take off as we move into the Internet of Things – when we are connected with our refrigerators and cars and we get reminders of what we products we need at home while we are shopping.
Technological change is happening twice as fast social change in incorporating the new technologies.  Business is moving even more slowly.  It is hard to keep up and we can’t always afford to keep up.  New phone technologies are rolled out annually.

Among new technologies – geo-tagging (in social media posts and photos) has led to geo-fencing.  Building an electronic fence around a spot and harvesting the Twitter, Insta-gram and other posts within the fence.
Metcalfe’s Law:


The value of a network grows as the square of the number of its users increase.
                                                     -          Robert M. Metcalfe, co-creator of Ethernet

Social Media:

There are a variety of Social Media categories:
  • Collaboration and Crowdsourcing – vBulletin Dicussion Boards, Google Groups
  • Blogs – Blogger, WordPress, TypePad, LiveJournal
  • Microblogs – Twitter, Tumblr, Weibo
  • Content Communities (Wikis) – Wikipedia, Wikispaces, Gamepedia
  • Social Networks – Facebook, Linked-In, Google Plus, QZone
  • Image Repositories – Flickr, Picassa, Imgur, DeviantArt
  • Virtual Games
  • Virtual Worlds
YouTube is social network platform but it is also a search tool.  It is a good resource to find training and product information.

Gaming platforms – World of Warcraft and virtual worlds like 2nd Life are great places for social interaction and research and investigation.  There can be product reviews.  Some universities have set up campuses in 2nd Life and you can take classes by placing your avatar into a classroom.
Both are good ways to access person-to-person interaction.  From a law enforcement perspective it is important.  As technology develops there are complaints of online offenses requiring new definitions and reporting of crimes.

Blogs tend to have low readership currently, but when they first took off in 2007 people were sharing a lot of personal information.  Some blogs are online diaries and still good sources for personal information on individuals.
Foursquare is an example of a space timer.  Sites like this tell you that a person was at specific place at a particular time.

Space locators are location-sensitive only.  TripAdvisor and Yelp tell you where people have been.
Quick timers are time-sensitive only – Twitter and Facebook are examples.

Slow time – neither time, nor location specific.  Sites like Wikipedia and YouTube.  Items here will be around for a long time, generally.
Social Media Building Blocks:

Ms. Clegg talked about the elements of social media – Presence, Relationship, Reputation, Identity, Groups, Conversation and Sharing.

Linked-In is focused on Identity and pulls in elements of Reputation, Relationship and Groups.

Foursquare focuses on Presence with elements of Identity and Relationship.

YouTube is about Sharing – and secondarily about Conversation, Groups and Reputation.

Facebook is a big winner – it is really about Relationships with elements of Presence, Reputation, Identity, Conversation and Sharing.

Twitter is another big winner – but its primary focus is on Sharing and secondarily about Presence, Relationship, Reputation, Identity, and Conversation.

How connected are we?

Ms. Clegg showed examples of people putting social media ahead of personal safety.
  • Posing for photos at fire scenes
  • Updating Facebook status while driving (her example was related to an actual fatal accident)
  • An incident with a man taking a hostage and posting to Facebook – and others updating with police movement and activity.
Tracking people using Social Media:

Now there are tools (some free, some for purchase) that allow you to draw a digital fence around a location and pick up the Twitter, Instagram and other posts at that location.
You can draw a fence around someone’s house and follow their posts and tweets.  Use this to find a Twitter user name and perhaps a Facebook profile.  Search in Facebook on photos – or photos that someone has liked – find their friends.

Often an individual is careful to monitor his/her Internet activity and profiles, but their friends and family members may not be as careful.

Using Geofeedia Ms. Clegg’s company found a posting by an employee at a secure location.  There was a clear photo showing the employee’s desk – his monitor that was displaying a classified document and his personal laptop that was in used.  Both are violations of security guidelines.

Another location they found a posting by a soldier who was scheduled for deployment.  She was posing with her rifle.  From that post they could pull up her Facebook profile and photos of herself and her friends.

Knowing her Twitter profile name they could search on the Teaching Privacy website for other posts by her worldwide and see where she has been deployed.
Google tricks:

One trick that Ms. Clegg showed was an enhancement of the familiar wild card search in Google.  Put a name in quotes but add an * - “Lisa * Smith”  The * acts as a wild card and will cover up to 4 additional words between the names.
Ms. Clegg used this on one project and was able to find the name of a subject’s wife.  The subject had done a good job of keeping his own online profile low, but not his wife and family.  With the wife’s name she was able to find associations with the children’s school and then photos on Facebook and Twitter of the children.  Following Twitter posts and the time and location stamp she was able to trace the subject’s route to work – dropping the kids at school and on to his place of business.

For all this geo-tracking – Ms. Clegg concluded by showing us a site:

A person can log in with his/her Twitter ID and select any location.  Then post a tweet and it will appear in Twitter that one is Johannesburg when she is really in Detroit.
All that means is that we have to be careful when we use any of these geo-tracking tools. 


  1. One trick that Ms. Clegg showed was an enhancement of the familiar wild card search in Google. Put a name in quotes but add an * - “Lisa * Smith” The * acts as a wild card and will cover up to 4 additional words between the names.facebook


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