Chapter 2: Tools and Techniques for Gathering and Preserving Social Media Evidence
Once the access to social media information has been secured, either through court order or simply due to public accessibility, evidence must be gathered in a way that is legal and useful. Collecting evidence from social media sites can be challenging for several reasons. Social media is constantly changing, and users can easily update and delete material that could be evidence in a case, although once a user is aware of an ongoing investigation, he or she is under an obligation to preserve social media evidence just as if it were any other type of evidence.
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Deleting photos, posts and other information is akin to shredding documents and the courts have been clear about the consequences, handing out hefty fines and sanctions for spoliation, as a Virginia lawyer and his client found out in a recent wrongful death case.
So far there are relatively few standardized, widely accepted methods for gathering evidence from social media sites, says Wright. “A common approach is for someone to just try to print what they see on their screen onto a piece of paper and show it to the judge or administrator,” he says. However, printouts don’t always contain all of the information and the interactivity that takes place on social media sites. A better alternative to the printout is a screencast.
A screencast captures the look, words, images, interactivity and inter-relationships from one page to the next. It’s a valuable tool because what’s on a social media profile today may not be there tomorrow. Wright suggests using a webcast narration, where the investigator records a video of him/herself talking about what they are seeing on the page. There are several effective tools for this, including Camtasia and Screencast-O-Matic.
If what you’re looking for is on Facebook, Meyer suggests using Facebook’s “Download Your Information” function, which allows a user to create an electronic copy of his or her entire profile. This includes contact information, interests, groups, wall posts, photos and videos, friend list, notes, events, private messages, comments, and other related content.