The Use of Social Media in Private Investigation

According to a 2012 nationwide survey of 1,200 state, federal and local law enforcement professionals conducted by PoliceOne and LexiNexis, about 4 out of 5 respondents reported that they used social media and anticipate using it even more in the future. Of those who reported they didn’t use social media, an impressive 74 percent said they anticipate using it in the near future.

And it’s not just law enforcement officials and private investigators who find value in social media.

For example, a 2011 article found that businesses in Ohio had begun hiring private investigators to search social media sites to find information about their competitors and to keep an eye out for employee misconduct.

Although private investigators certainly haven’t abandoned more traditional methods of surveillance and investigation, many have also begun pouring over the Internet’s social media sites to glean a great deal of information about people.

Private equity firms and hedge funds, for example, often hire the expertise of private investigators to search social media sites for information on a management team before they spend tens of thousands—even millions—of dollars in a company.

A 2011 survey of more than 150 companies conducted by Forrester Research found that more than 82 percent of companies use social media to learn about their competitors. For example, a private investigator reported he searched social media sites for a company that needed information on the chief executives of companies they targeted for acquisition.

In one example, a private investigator did research for a company who was looking to collect money from a businessman who claimed poverty. Through social media research (and a few careless posts bragging about his place in the Caribbean), the private investigator found that the individual in question was actually hiding assets.

Private investigators often use such sites as Google, Facebook, and Twitter to back up their traditional investigative work and read between the lines of information already obtained from other traditional sources.

Social media provides private investigators with the ability to verify what they may suspect and to follow leads to find more information. Investigators can maximize their success by monitoring as many social media sites as possible, as many individuals use a number of sites to post information.