Co-Authored by Page Vault Staff and Eric Pesale, Write for Law
With nearly 1.8 billion users worldwide, Facebook has maintained its status as the platform of choice for users looking to share details of their personal lives publicly. If searched the right way, Facebook can be a treasure trove of discoverable data for litigators and litigation support professionals. Whether for initial research or for court evidence, if you’re wondering how to collect social media data on Facebook, these four tips will help guide your social media investigation research in the right direction.
1. Review a User’s Profile Information for Discoverable Social Media Data
Facebook profile sections found beyond the initial Timeline, such as the tabs near the top of the profile pertaining to “About,” “Photos,” “Events,” “Groups,” and “Videos,” are good sources for finding information. Specifically, you can find a user’s residence, employment information, and interests, as well as legally-pertinent audio files, video files and public location check-ins. Even information about a user’s page and groups that they like can be legally significant.
The number of cases where social media content is considered significant continues to grow. For example, in Lester v. Allied Concrete Co., 2011 Va. Cir. LEXIS 245 (Va. Cir. Ct. 2011 Sept. 6, 2011), a husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit after his wife’s death, where later his attorney advised him to “clean up” his Facebook profile and remove a photograph of the husband wearing a “I ♥ Hot Moms” t-shirt. However, defense counsel found the photo before it was removed and fined the plaintiff and his attorney.
In addition to looking at Facebook’s sections and features, you can also use your client’s profile and those of consenting third-parties in conjunction with other online tools to gather relevant evidence on profile visits for cyberbullying lawsuits and other civil and criminal cases.
2. Conduct a Social Media Investigation of a User’s Posts and Content
Litigators will likely find a user’s published comments, notes and messages useful, not just for their content—which can, in part, touch upon a user’s intent and state of mind or lead to discoverable evidence—but also for their embedded location data. If a user has Location Services enabled on Facebook, the content he/she publishes triggers geolocation data that can help pinpoint the Facebook user’s location at the time they posted.
For images specifically, Location Services can capture the EXIF data, which are metadata tags within an image that can include GPS coordinates. This information, which can oftentimes be found in the published content itself (i.e. John Smith at The Art Institute, July 15, 2016, Chicago, IL for a photo tagged by a friend), can prove useful in constructing case timelines or proving and refuting alibis.
3. Conduct an In-Depth Social Media Investigation Using Advance Search
Advance Search, the search engine within Facebook located at the top of the page, can be useful for conducting an in-depth social media investigation into a user’s social profile. Obviously, the search feature wasn’t created for legal web content collection, but rather for users searching for friends who have a similar interest in, for example, comic books. With that in mind, it works best if the user being researched is Facebook friends with your client or a cooperative third-party (check your local rules on the ethics of “friending” with others).
For legal professionals leveraging the tool, searches for phrases such as “Pages [User’s Name] likes,” for example, can return invaluable social media investigation results. Searches of phone numbers, email addresses, and other contact information can also help pinpoint owners of pseudonym or fake name profiles if they registered this information when signing up.
4. Research User Data on Event and Group Memberships
Collecting social media data on a user’s event and group memberships can be useful for locating or finding leads for witnesses and interested parties for cases tied to particular events or local groups. Facebook also leaves public lists published for closed groups and past events, as well as active groups and upcoming events.
To find these results for a particular user, conduct searches within Search for phrases such as “Closed groups joined by [User’s Name]” or “Events attended by [User’s Name].” Test this tip out generally by typing in the Advanced Search bar “Closed Groups joined by my friends” and/or “Events attended by my friends” (you don’t need to include the quotation marks).
Page Vault On Demand, an easy way for legal professionals to submit a request for web content to be collected for their initial research or as evidence, can help to capture discoverable data during a Facebook social media investigation. Each capture comes with key metadata (IP addresses, time/date stamps, URLs) that further supports the authentication of the content and that can be used as admissible evidence in court.
This post was co-authored by Eric Pesale, an attorney who writes about eDiscovery, data security and other legal topics for law firms, publications, and companies, and is the founder and chief legal contributor of Write For Law. He is a graduate of New York Law School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has been published in CSO, the New York Law Journal and Above the Law. Eric can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ericpesale.