Social media forensics for law enforcement investigations

Social media is a vital part of today’s digital age. Law enforcement can benefit by paying attention to all these networks’ photos, videos, and posts. Understanding the importance of social media forensics in criminal investigations and knowing how to use it effectively can be crucial for law enforcement.

What is social media forensics (SCM)?

Social media forensics is collecting, analyzing, and storing information, photos, and videos that are available publicly on social media sites to locate criminals. This doesn’t include deeper information, which might require obtaining a court order. However, publicly available material can provide valuable evidence for an investigation.

Social media growth and social media forensics

According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, 70 percent of adults will use social media in 2021 compared with only 5% of adults in 2005. Social media is becoming more popular, which means more people will be sharing their lives on social media. Criminals may also leave or publish evidence via these platforms and channels.

Naturally, law enforcement agencies have been increasing their focus on social media as well, as indicated in the picture of her with the victim that was posted on social media earlier the night before the victim died. How? Police were able to show that the belt worn by the suspect in the photo was the same as the one found at the crime scene. The police may not have connected without seeing the photos on social media.

Recently, Detroit police used posts of a suspect dance on social media to arrest him in four armed robberies. In the videos, the key evidence was his shoes. The police said that they were similar to those worn by the robber.

A man in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was arrested after the police learned that he had been using social media applications to solicit minors.

In all of these cases and in many others, social media forensics has provided evidence that ties the suspects with the illegal acts.

When is the best time to start a social media investigation?

There is no better way to begin integrating social media forensics in your investigations than as soon as you can. It is important to begin your social media investigation as soon as possible. This will ensure that any potentially relevant evidence does not get lost, destroyed, or corrupted.

Social media forensics also plays a crucial role in older cases. For example, it can assist police with cases of unidentified or missing persons. In June 1995, a young boy left his home to go on a Grateful Dead tour and never returned. The young man, a passenger of a car that crashed in Virginia, killed both the driver and young man, was killed along with the vehicle. The young man’s parents were unable to inform his family about the accident because they did not recognize him. In 2012, an updated police composite sketch created from autopsy photos was posted on a social media platform. The young man’s mother and brother recognized the image and were able to identify him. This allowed law enforcement to solve a 17-year-old case.

Conducting social media forensics properly

Law enforcement agencies must adhere to these laws when conducting social media investigations. According to the jurisdiction, law enforcers may require a warrant in order to access information on a social media site about an account holder. This is especially true if that person has yet to publicize this information.

Moreover, different social media platforms may have rules or policies which could affect the ability of law enforcement to obtain this information.

Social media forensic investigators use digital tools

Social media investigators can use a wide range of tools and techniques to collect and analyze social media data, including:

Visit social media accounts manually

Printing or taking screenshots

Downloading photos and files

Open-source software or other programs can be used to collect and preserve data

Subpoenaing, or obtaining an order from a court to produce documents and additional information.

Social media forensics tools are becoming increasingly important as more people share their lives online, including their illicit activities. In an era where law enforcement agencies rely more on sophisticated tools to collect and analyze evidence, a social media search will be a crucial first step in their investigations.

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