As organizations look for new ways to get to the bottom of an investigation and collect evidence, they are turning to social media for answers.

Posted by Joe Gerard in on March 21st, 2011

Have you ever thought of using social media as an investigation tool? If not, start now.  As organizations look for new ways to get to the bottom of an investigation and collect evidence, they are turning to social media for answers. André Marin, the Ontario Ombudsman noted that the investigation into the G20 protests in Toronto relied heavily on evidence gathered from social media. Companies in the insurance and health care industries have also turned to social media to help with fraud investigations.

How to use social media in an investigation

Social media is often used for fact finding and evidence collection. Posts on someone’s Facebook wall or tweets on Twitter are being used to find out where people are and what activities they participate in. For example, people often post pictures of their adventures, post comments about where they are going, write blog posts about their vacations and so on. If an employee repeatedly calls in sick and it becomes an issue in the workplace, investigators may turn to social media to look for pictures or comments to make sure the employee wasn’t out on the golf course of shopping with friends when they were “sick”.

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The same goes for insurance claims investigations. Investigators use social media to figure out whether or not people are submitting fraudulent claims. For example, if someone’s house is robbed or they end up in a car accident, they usually tweet or post about the incident and the damage done. At the NHCAA conference I was speaking with an investigator who mentioned that a Facebook photo gave them the evidence they needed to prove that a person’s injuries from a car accident were nowhere near what they were claiming them to be – as the person was up and moving around in no time.

I came across a recent article on, “Social media the latest tool for health care fraud investigators,” which discussed some of the ways investigators are using social media to accompany traditional fact-finding methods:

“But disability, medical liability and workers’ compensation cases, where more money is involved, often rely on Facebook and Twitter posts to augment the traditional surveillance and field work, Maya said.

He said insurers use posts or tweets in criminal cases to supplement other evidence of fraud. Auto insurers have turned to social media in personal injury cases to deny claims or push for a quick settlement. Maya said he has seen online postings used in medical liability cases where a patient claims to have been injured under a physician’s care but isn’t actually hurt.”

What about privacy?

Some people block access to their Facebook pages and tweets through privacy settings, which can make it challenging for information to be accessed. The Claims Magazine article “Using Social Media in Claim Investigations,” by Wayne Partenheimer states:

“Many users grant access to their pages to anyone who asks, but before you go asking a claimant to be your Facebook friend or posting a comment on his blog, make sure you are familiar with the insurance laws in the claimant’s state which might prohibit contact with a claimant who is represented by counsel.”

During recent investigations, such as the WikiLeaks investigation, social media sites have received subpoenas to hand over user information. For example, Facebook has a clause on their site that states that if they receive a subpoena, they may release the information that is being sought after if they believe there’s good reason to do so. However, it’s not guaranteed that they will. Ultimately, the service provider can choose whether or not to comply with the request.

Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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