If you’re among the 82% of Americans with an active social media account like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, count yourself as one of the people who may be giving strangers the opportunity to look into your personal lives—without much effort. When using social media, it’s easy to underestimate uses for it outside of staying connected with others; but for the more than 200K unsolved cases of the missing and murdered it can be an invaluable tool to conduct research.
From a citizen detective perspective, this information is incredibly valuable because it’s so accessible. From a law enforcement vantage point, social media has been used as an investigative tool to track activities of suspected criminals, and connect them to other persons of interest as well as other potential suspects and victims. The element of immediacy allows law enforcement to engage with their own communities in real time; and for cold or stalled cases it can yield just as much info from an open source intelligence tool—or OSINT.
Social media as an investigative tool
While there is some debate about whether the information on social media accounts should be considered private, many consider that information public—primarily because users freely publish personal details on their accounts.
When you Google someone’s name, the first result is typically a social media profile. On any given platform people can figure out your date of birth, marital status, ethnicity, phone number, email address, religion, geographic location, photos of their friends and families, political views, where you attended high school and college, and hobbies.
However, if you want to go deeper than a basic search, you may find more information through an advanced path to collecting and analyzing social media data, commonly referred to as social media intelligence, SMI or SOCMINT.
Through SOCMINT technology and tools, you can gather information on various platforms, whether they’re open or closed social media networks, and effectively capture, analyze and transform that data into actionable intelligence.
Law enforcement officials have defended the use of this type of intelligence gathering based on its value in detecting criminal behavior or supporting the conviction of a suspect. Other advocates of OSINT make the case that any information shared on social media sites can be assessed through technology because it is shared online on a public social media platform.
SOCMINT tools and resources can give you an edge in your research by giving you the ability to the do a series of functions, including the following:
- Monitor online conversations among individuals or groups via messages and posts
- Detect where a person is through geolocation metadata
- Predict user behavior
- Detect trends
- Monitor content, including news, images, posts and other data generated through social networks and websites.
- Gather information about a person’s spending habits
- Analyze and identify patterns in photos and videos
SOCMINT tools and resources to support your research
Where to start with SOCMINT? Here are 16 tools and resources to help you get familiar with the technology based on several popular social media platforms:
- Facebook JSON Search — Allows you to interact with Facebook API and automate FB data retrieval
- FB Barometer — Gives statistics and insights about specific Facebook profiles or pages.
- LikeAlyzer — Helps you monitor and analyze Facebook Pages
- Lookup ID — This SOCMINT tool enables you to find the Facebook personal numeric IDs of individuals, pages or groups
- Socmint — Assists with gathering information using Facebook Graph search.
- Who posted what? — A keyword search tool that allows you to search Facebook posts for specific keywords posted within a specific timeframe.
- All My Tweets — Gives you an overview of all public tweets posted by any Twitter account on one page.
- Foller — Insert the profile Twitter account of a person to get analytical insights on their join date, timezone, followers ratio and topics and hashtags most commonly used in recent conversations.
- Sleeping Time — Want to know when someone is sleeping? Yes, sounds pretty stalkerish but Sleeping Time predicts the sleeping schedule of Twitter users if you are interested in that type of information.
- Trendsmap – Allows you to review the most popular hashtags and keywords on Twitter globally.
- Twitter Basic Search — Search for content using #hashtags, phrases, names of people or companies, or search under specific categories like Trending
- Twitter Advanced Search — This advanced tool on Twitter gives you the ability to search for specific results — mentions of people, activities, brands or other phrases — within a specific date range.
- Picodash — A search engine specifically designed to explore Instagram and Twitter for photos, videos, users and locations.
- User Search — Know someone’s email or username? Scan dozens of social media networks, dating sites, forums and chat sites to see where they have other profiles.
SOCINT in the future
With technology constantly undergoing enhancements, the ability to search for public information on social media sites will only continue to offer deeper and deeper insights into people’s behaviors. If you’re interested in learning even more about finding information on social media from a citizen detective perspective, check out our recent ‘What is a Citizen Detective?’ series with Uncovered community member Kate K. Kate shares her best practices for finding publicly available info on social media when doing case research.
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