With 69 percent of adults on at least one social media site, including 88 percent of individuals under 30 years old, there is a wealth of information out there for investigators to comb through. Few social media users implement the strictest privacy settings, which provides even more investigative fodder.
With so much information available, social media investigations are a potential time-suck, warned Heather Honey, president of Haystack Investigations, at the 2018 GSX conference in September. “You want to have a plan in mind,” she said. “First, identify what information you have about a person of interest. Second, know what information you’re trying to find.”
Getting help from especially valuable online tools can also help investigators to be more efficient in social media investigations, according to Honey. In her conference presentation, she detailed investigative tips as well as many of her favorite tools. For example, if you’re looking to dig into Twitter, she recommended TweetBeaver, which provides useful, free Twitter analytics and allows investigators to search and download timelines and identify friends, followers, and Twitter IDs. “It can sometimes be helpful to identify who has followers in common, and what’s really great about this is that it allows you to download lists into Excel for you to do your own analysis,” said Honey. “You can export a list of followers, and even conversations between users.” [TweetBeaver]
Or what if you spot a useful Instagram video that you want to preserve? iGram is an online Instagram photo and video downloader. Suppose someone who is out on workers’ comp posts a video of himself mowing the lawn on Instagram? This tool allows you to easily download it by simply pasting the link into the tool. [iGram]
In the weeks ahead, we will be highlighting more tools that Honey and other expert presenters said they use in their online investigations. To get started, however, here are tools that Honey says can provide social media investigators with a solid foundation to their work.
What’s out there? There is more to the social media universe than the big names like Twitter and Facebook—lots more. “You need to get smart about the many platforms people use,” said Honey. She suggested checking out a list of the top 200 social networks worldwide at Social Media List, which is regularly updated. [Social Media List]
Where should you start? “If I’m investigating a 40-year-old female, my first stop isn’t Twitter,” said Honey. What should it be? You can see by examining data from the Pew Research Center on use of different online platforms by demographic groups. “I find I am always checking this data to target my searches,” she said. [Pew Research Center]
How do you get where you want to go? The OSINT Framework provides a flow chart to help focus the gathering of information from free tools or resources. “It’s a fantastic resource,” said Honey. [OSINT Framework]
What do leading experts recommend? The Research Clinic features Internet research links, training, and apps by renowned Internet research specialist Paul Myers. IntelTechniques is a similar site by leading expert Michael Bazzell. “These are great sourcefs with links and helpful tools for finding people, social media analytics, and other great stuff,” said Honey. [Research Clinic and IntelTechniques]
What tools are available? The Open Source Intelligence Tools and Resources Handbook 2018 is a comprehensive list—327 pages—of tools to help investigators explore and make sense of social media information. “Everything you could ever need to know about is in there,” said Honey. [OSINT Handbook]
This article was first published in 2018 and updated in 2022.