Social media offers investigators incredible opportunities to collect evidence. There are plenty of examples on the Internet of supposedly injured individuals posting runs and rides on Strava and incriminating car crash footage making its way onto YouTube. In fact, social media intelligence (SOCMINT or SMI) has become a standard part of many investigations—including insurance fraud, IP theft, online defamation, and even criminal cases.
As the video below illustrates, insurance is a great example of an industry where investigators typically turn to social media as soon as a situation seems suspicious—and their social searches are often rewarded.
But as useful as social media can be when it comes to collecting evidence, it also introduces challenges. In particular, gathering evidence can be time-consuming work. Some of the most laborious and frustrating tasks include:
- Scouring dozens (or hundreds) of social media platforms to find relevant accounts
- Finding the origins of an online image
- Manually expanding comments and replies to check for relevant content
- Taking countless screenshots of posts—sometimes capturing an entire Twitter or Instagram account manually
These tasks can be so time-consuming that an investigation simply isn’t cost-effective. For example, as a private investigator, you could spend hours and hours on social media—but would a client be willing to pay for that time? Isn’t everyone facing pressure to reduce the cost of review?
Luckily there are social media investigation tools out there that can greatly reduce repetitive work—and even automate the collection of evidence. With these tools you can greatly expand your online investigations and capture valuable evidence before it’s deleted.
Here are five tools designed to make your online investigations more successful and efficient:
- WebPreserver: Collect and preserve social media evidence in defensible format
- Makeawebsitehub: Identify the latest social media apps and platforms
- Pipl Search: Find public records, online data, and other information related to an individual
- TinEye: Use reverse image search to find the source of an online picture
- TweetBeaver: Use Twitter analytics to understand an account and identify connections
5 Must-Have Social Media Investigation Tools
What is it for? Collection and preservation of social media and other online content.
WebPreserver is an automated forensic preservation tool for social media and web content that can literally complete weeks of evidence collection in under an hour. Its auto-expand feature automatically expands long collapsed posts, comment threads, and replies, ensuring hidden content is captured without you having to manually expand these sections. WebPreserver can even capture entire websites, Instagram accounts, and videos with two simple clicks. WebPreserver is a browser-based plugin compatible with Chrome and Edge that can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store, but you need to purchase a license through the WebPreserver website. See how the tool works by visiting this page—or simply check out the video below.
What is it for? Identifying the latest social media platforms and apps.
Have you ever heard of Peanut, Caffeine, or Steemit? What about Ello, Triller, or WT Social? While it can feel as if platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube dominate the social media landscape, new apps and platforms are being released all the time. Makeawebsitehub.com regularly updates a list of the latest social media apps, which can be very useful for expanding your online investigations and finding those lesser-known platforms that might be hiding useful evidence.
3. Pipl Search
What is it for? To identify personal, professional, and social information online.
Pipl Search is arguably the most sophisticated people search engine available to investigators. Pipl collects information from Internet sources like public records, listings, directories, and online archives—but it also boasts its own exclusive sources. Pipl has global coverage, with over three billion online identities and 25 billion individual identity records at its disposal. All you need is a single data point (like a name, phone number, or email address) and Pipl will quickly provide you with all available data for that person. This information can include associated social media accounts, all known telephone numbers, physical addresses, places of employment, educational history, etc.
What is it for? Reverse image search to find the origin of an online image.
TinEye is an incredibly simple but useful online tool that allows you to conduct a reverse image search. All you need to do is upload an image to TinEye, and the tool will tell you where it appears on the Internet. So if, for example, you have an image associated with a Facebook profile, you can use TinEye to see where else that picture is used online—perhaps on another social media platform like Strava, YouTube, or TikTok. Have a look at the tutorial below to see how TinEye can help you find the origin of an image posted to social media.
What is it for? Twitter analytics aimed at understanding an account and identifying connections.
TweetBeaver is a simple but surprisingly powerful tool that allows you to quickly gather a lot of information from any public Twitter account. With TweetBeaver you perform tasks such as bulk-lookup of account data, download a user’s favorites, check if two accounts follow each other, find common followers of two accounts, and download a user’s friends list.
Looking for more tips and advice related to online evidence collection? Have a look at our Essential Online Investigation Guide for Websites, Social Media, and Team Collaboration Tools.