If you're interested in using social media as an investigative tool, Introduction to Social Media Investigation will show you how! Social networks and social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, are some of the most popular services on the Web, with hundreds of millions of users. The public information that people share on these sites can be valuable for anyone interested in investigating people of interest through open, public sources.
Social media as an investigative device is in its infancy and not well understood. This book presents an overview of social media and discusses special skills and techniques to use when conducting investigations. The book features hands-on tutorials and case studies and offers additional data-gathering techniques.
- Presents an overview of social media sites, information types, privacy policies, and other general issues relevant to investigating individuals online
- Discusses the special skills and techniques needed when conducting investigations using social media
- Includes hands-on tutorials and case studies using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media sites using proven investigative techniques
- Shows how to gather additional data using advanced techniques such as crowdsourcing, data mining, and network analysis
Jennifer Golbeck Ph.D Is an Associate Professor in the College of Information Studies and Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests include social network and social media analysis, recommender systems, trust on the web, human computer interaction and and how to use social relationships to improve the way people interact with information. She was named as one of IEEE Intelligent System's 'Top Ten to Watch', is a Research Fellow in the Web Science Research Initiative and is a sought after speaker on social media
Background and basics
This chapter introduces the major types of social media Web sites and services, to have a vocabulary of common features, and to understand the origins and landscape of the area.
Before jumping in to all the details of social media, it's useful to know the types of websites and services, to have a vocabulary of common features, and to understand the origins and landscape of the area. This chapter introduces those basics that will be used throughout the rest of the book.
Investigating on Social Media
This book is intended to show investigators how to find information on social media. It covers the basics of social media, but not the very basics of investigative techniques. With that said, there are some tips on running social media investigations that are worth discussing up front. Many people will recognize these as standard investigation techniques but may not have thought about how to translate that into an online environment.
Investigator Dusty Lefdal describes a technique that was commonly used among many people I spoke with. "Often times, we locate a target, not by trying to find the target themselves, but by finding their associates. This will then lead us to the target."
Attorney Lisa Helfend Meyer agrees. In her family law practice, they often look at the social media accounts of clients' (and opposing parties') children to see what they are posting. While parents may try to keep a low social media profile, the kids often don't worry about this and may not even be aware that their posts can be used. The same is true of friends of the targets of investigation.
People also tend to be reliably uncreative in their profiles. They use the same email addresses, same usernames, and same profile photos over and over. In future chapters, we will look at techniques that you can use to take information you learn on one site and find information about a person on many other sites, including ones you have never heard of.
A Brief History of Social Media
The history of social media is a topic that deserves its own book, but understanding the major motivations and points of development in the timeline will help in understanding the current landscape and uses of these technologies.
Genesis of the Internet
The internet has been a social place since its invention. Work began on the internet in the 1960s, and the modern internet was in place by the early 1980s. In 1980, Usenet was created. This was an online discussion system where people could find discussion boards on a topic they were interested in and then read messages from others and post replies.
New methods of finding community and social connection arose as the internet evolved to include services like CompuServe and America Online. But the biggest shift came with the invention of the World Wide Web, which went online in 1991.
The Early World Wide Web
The web was originally a place where a person needed a number of technical skills to post content. Creating a web page required knowledge of the language for writing web pages (HTML), space on a server to store the web pages, and the ability to upload the coded version. As such, the web's first decade was a time when people mostly browsed content created by others. The (relatively) small number of content creators consisted mostly of technically skilled individuals or organizations with teams that could put pages online.
The late 1990s saw the development and release of several tools designed to make creating web content easier. One of the most important of these in terms of the rise of social media was the blog. Blogs (short for web logs) are a type of online diary. While it was technically possible for anyone to have created a frequently updated journal on the web since its invention, blog software made this much easier. Instead of writing code, people could author "posts" (like diary entries) using a graphical interface similar to a word processor's. The blog software would convert the post into code for the web, handle the organization of the site, sort posts by date, and format them.
Blogs helped millions of people to create online presences. As blogging software improved, it became possible for people to comment on the blog entries of others. In time, this created de facto communities around people's posts.
Social Networks Appear
In the early 2000s, as blog numbers continued growing dramatically, a new kind of site started to appear. These sites were focused less on creating online diaries and more on creating online profiles. At the time, the ability to create a page about yourself, your skills, and your interests was difficult. Blogs had empowered the masses to create sites in a specific category, but creating web content belonging to another category still required all the technical skills mentioned above. This new breed of site allowed people to create personal pages by simply completing a form. But it went one step further: people could also find any friends who were also members of the same system and connect to them.
There were a handful these new social networking sites in the earliest generation, but the most popular was Friendster. Figure 2.1 shows an image of Friendster, as it appeared in the early 2000s. Basic profile information appears on the right, and toward the bottom left is a list of friends. Figure 2.1
An example of how the social networking website Friendster appeared in 2003.
This general structure-a static profile with a list of friends-was the standard among social networking sites for many years. Figure 2.2 shows a 2005 Myspace profile page, with very similar organization. Figure 2.2
A Myspace profile page from 2005. Information about the user, Tom, appears near the top left, while friends are shown at the bottom right.
These types of sites began to gain popularity in the early to mid-2000s. By 2005, there were already hundreds of social networking websites, and many had over 1 million members-quite a large number for the time.
Web 2.0 and the Rise of Social Networks
Part of the reason social networks were so popular is because they made it easy for people to put information online. As social network sites continued to gain popularity, this technology started appearing elsewhere on the web. Photo-sharing websites (like Photobucket and Flickr) began in 2003-2004. Soon after followed video sharing, exemplified by YouTube's launch in 2005.
Sites that let people organize other types of content (like bookmarks to sites they liked) also appeared. Appearing in 2003, del.icio.us let people share links, add labels to make finding them easier, and browse the shared links of others. Digg, appearing in 2004, also let people share links but introduced the ability for others to "vote" links "up" or "down." This feature helped people find new, popular content as a result of voting.
Countless websites started integrating tools to allow users to comment on shared content, vote them up or down, and post reviews. By 2005, there was a dramatic shift well under way in how people used the web. No longer were they simply browsing others' content. Instead, they were actively creating profiles, interacting, making connections, and generating their own content.
This behavioral shift-often described as a transition from consumer to producer-came to be recognized by the nickname "Web 2.0." Despite criticism centered around the fact that the use of "2.0" implied that the web itself had supposedly undergone a software upgrade, the name stuck. Regardless, the fact remains that this was recognized as a paradigm shift in people's behavior on the web.
Noticing the change, social networks added what is now a fundamental part of many people's online experience: the status update.
At first inspection, it might seem that status updates were hardly something new; after all, blogs had allowed people to publish their lives' current events for years. But status updates were real time, (usually) brief, and almost always about what people were doing, thinking, reading, and watching.
In 2006, Facebook introduced the News Feed. This collected all the status updates of someone's friends and displayed them on one page in chronological order. Visiting several friends' blogs for news seemed incredibly tedious by comparison. Figure 2.3 shows the early version of the News Feed on Facebook. Figure 2.3
The early version of Facebook's News Feed, showing all of a person's friends' updates.
Since then, posting updates has been a central feature of many new social media websites. The self-described "microblogging" site Twitter was introduced in 2007. It limited the length of status updates to a maximum of 140 characters.
The membership of these sites has continued to grow as well. Facebook now has over 1.2 billion active users-nearly half of the world's internet-using population. Twitter has 300 million active users but possibly as many as 850 million registered users. Social features are now the norm on websites and offer the ability to review items, to share links through social media sites, and to log in using social media...