For better, or for worse, social media has become a ubiquitous staple permeating every facet of our lives. Sites like Twitter, Instagram and wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild, the monolithic Facebook, are so deeply entrenched into the fabric of our society that individuals and businesses alike are finding ways to use these applications to connect and expand their purview to a virtually limitless scope. Reaching anywhere on the globe is now a mere click of the mouse or a touch of your smart phone away.
While there are almost infinite possibilities, for which one can use social media, a single aspect unifies the panoply of disparate aims: People from all walks of life are using various applications and websites to share almost every facet of their lives online, as if we are all the stars of our own reality TV show. One could argue that we have become a nation of voyeurs and exhibitionists, in an era where privacy seems to be a quaint notion, and discretion a passé relic from the past. The plethora of information available through these applications, by which we are incessantly inundated, can seem overwhelming at times, however, such a wealth of content can often be a crucial element when grappling with, and defending against, personal injury claims and lawsuits.
The lion’s share of popular social media websites and applications are free to join, and easily accessible to anyone. They are frequented by those of all ages, races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, thus deeming social media content perhaps the most invaluable investigative wellspring of the digital age. While baby boomers were initially wary of the perceived invasiveness of this 21st Century phenomenon, many people over the age of fifty are now some of the most devoted denizens of the social media landscape, and are embracing it as a way to stave off loneliness and isolation in middle age and beyond by staying “cyber-connected” with family and friends around the world, with whom they would have otherwise lost touch. Finally, the broad appeal of social media makes it invaluable in conducting routine investigations, investigating suspicions or fraudulent claims, and in making traditional surveillance efforts more efficient.
Making the most of social media content in the context of investigation claims and claimants is solely dependent on locating and reviewing information that is publicly available. Often, represented parties may be advised to take down or disable social media sites, or tighten security measures on privacy settings to avoid being caught posting incriminating content. When investigating a claim, use the following tips to become a savvy social media sleuth.
· Investigate properly: The opportunity for finding valuable information or photos from a claimant’s social media page is much more likely the sooner it is sought; this should take place, ideally, initially upon being notified of a claim or potential claim. Claims professionals should, right away, look up popular social media sites to cull through posts, status updates and photographs. It is imperative to conduct several searches before the claimant obtains counsel or is told to remove or hide content.
· Save found content: Once you have hit upon relevant social media content, it is urgent that you preserve it immediately. Saving or copying the URL link directly from the browser into a Word document or directly into claims notes will expedite navigating to the claimant’s page for future reference. In addition, when content which is germane to the case at hand is found, printing those images or using the “print screen” feature to save an image is of the utmost importance. Keep in mind that being aware that photos or posts exist will not aid your case if they are later removed, deleted or hidden from public access.
· Broaden your search beyond the target: When using social media to investigate a claimant, don’t forget to also search for known friends and family members. These names can be discreetly learned from incident reports, recorded statements, insurance policies and other documents often collected at the inception of the claim. While the claimant may have been instructed to disable or to hide social media content, their friends and family will not be privy to the same advice. Seeking out a spouse or a child can glean supplemental evidence over which the claimant has no direct authority. Also, discerning a claimant’s hobbies and interests, via their own page, can point toward other possible sources. If a claimant follows public figures, organizations and businesses, these pages are usually public and can leave a trail to additional posts by the claimant.
· Search public content, but resist partaking in deceitful tactics to gain access to information: If a lawsuit is filed, social media content gained pre-suit can significantly aid defense counsel by buoying evidence and offering subjects for cross-examination. The use of social media can also help with the investigation of possible jurors if the case proceeds to a jury trial. Since lawyers and law firms must abide by ethical standards, it is crucial that claims professionals lawfully find social media content. For instance, lawyers, law firms and investigators are not permitted to “friend” or “follow” a represented claimant or plaintiff to gain private information to which he or she would not otherwise have access.
There are two salient factors which underscore the mandatory nature of social media research today when handling claims: First and foremost, the sheer magnitude of users and social media sites which evince that the digital medium, far from being a passing fad, is only going to gain further traction in the years to come. Secondly, most individuals have a prominent and prolific “cyber-persona.” The good news is that stealth social media searching can be done from anywhere and at no cost. While you could follow the tips outlined in this article to try to ferret out crucial evidence yourself, Kessler International is a world leader in implementing a wide variety of investigative services. Our computer forensic engineers are specialists in digital forensics. Let us worry about computer crime, and work diligently on your behalf, in an ethical and efficient manner, using the latest technology and our many years of experience in the industry, so you can focus your time on continuing to grow your business, while we capture the content which could help tip the scales of justice in your favor.