How to Use Social Networks for Investigation

Presently, social networks are widely being used in criminal and legal investigations. A social network investigation examines the social media posts, photos, status updates and conversations of an individual or a group. Information posted by users on social networks such as Instagram and Facebook have been used by criminal investigators and prosecutors during the court proceedings to provide information relevant to a specific case.

A social network can be defined as ‘’an online service or site through which people create and maintain interpersonal relationships’’. These are commonly used during court cases to provide information and supplement evidence, as well as establish character, and disqualify or support an alibi. Social networks are being used more and more in criminal trials, as well as custody and divorce cases. Methods used to determine evidence on social networks for a specific case include looking at the location tags on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts, verification of their originality, and identification of other individuals connected to the case. For some investigations, such as crimes against minors and pedophilia, investigators can set up specific search terms and can discover what type and age of individuals the person is interacting with. Methods for investigating through social networks are various, and here are few examples how the most common and popular social networking sites can be used for collecting the necessary evidence:


Facebook investigations reveal someone’s friends lists, photos or posts they liked, and people they are associated with. By investigating through Facebook, you can see someone’s political views, causes they support, employers, groups they are members of, birth date, education background and similar.

To search through Facebook, you first need to set up an account. You can search people by name and use filters to narrow the results. In some cases, accounts are unsearchable, but you can still find people through the profiles of their friends and family members. Privacy settings are applied to each section of a Facebook profile. Users can set up for some information to be public, while other sections can remain private. It is prohibited to create false accounts on this social network site; however, many investigators set up ‘’dummy’’ accounts to use for investigations and ensure a certain account cannot be linked to them.


Twitter was designed to serve as a public forum. In some cases, users set up their accounts to be private and you have to request their permission to see their information; however, most of Twitter accounts are public, and users cannot see who has looked at their accounts.

By conducting an investigation on this social networking site, you can see who a person is following and who is following them, their conversations and tweets. If user’s other social media accounts are linked to their Twitter account, some photos and statuses they posted on Facebook may also be visible on Twitter. This helps investigators find additional social network accounts for the person they are investigating. Twitter can also be searched by using hashtags to find content related to a specific event or a topic, as well as the people who are talking about these topics.


YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and the results can be numerous. It has over two billion logged-in users monthly and every day, people watch over a billion of hours of video and generate billions of views.

Investigation through this social network site can be done by searching by the person’s name, username or by subject matter. Investigators often use advanced search operators to narrow results by channels, types of videos, playlists, video length and quality, and subject category. To investigate on YouTube, it is the best that you know what you are looking for as well as to have some key words for engine search.


Instagram is an extremely popular social networking site used for posting photos and videos used by millions of users. If users set up their profiles on public you can see their profile information, captions, hashtags and likes on photos and videos. Hashtags and photos can give clues about user’s affiliations, hobbies, friends, and locations.

Investigators often type in the username of an individual in the search engine to find information. Therefore, if you know someone’s username on Instagram you can type it in after the domain name www.instagram.comusername. If you do not know a person’s username, you can try by searching with their first and last name. You can also use other tools, such as Find-Gram or Instagram for Chrome to conduct more detailed searches.


Majority of people who use Pinterest do not restrict access to their boards, which can provide you with some insight into who they are and who is present in their social circles. On Pinterest, you can discover who a person is following and who follows them, as well as their hobbies and interests. In some instances, people do put privacy restrictions to their boards, but not to their Pinterest accounts and they are not able to see who has looked at their profiles.

If you want to conduct an investigation through Pinterest and you are familiar with the username of an individuals, you can type it in after the domain name www.pinterest.comusername. Many users include links to their Facebook and Twitter accounts and many usernames are pulled from these two social networking sites since Pinterest uses the same username depending on how the person sets up the account.


LinkedIn is an online platform connecting professionals. Through setting up a profile on this social network, users showcase their professional life, milestones, skills and interests. Profile on LinkedIn summarizes your connections and professional experience, including the present and former employers, education, and recruiters.

Through this social network you can see a person’s current employment and employment history, groups that they are members of, projects, educational background and other interests. To find out with whom a person is networking with, you can look at their connections, how they are connected to other people, and who they have recommended and who has recommended them. Investigators search LinkedIn by using the first and last names and through advanced search by narrowing down results by location, company, keywords, industry, schools and similar. Since LinkedIn is a professional networking site, the majority of users display their full names on profiles.