Have you used hashtags in your online investigations? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word hashtag or see the symbol (#)? Do you think of Twitter? Or maybe Instagram, LinkedIn, or even Facebook? Social media users notice hashtags within posts. Some users follow hashtags. Some create them for political purposes. Others use them to track an event or even to make a point. Millions of hashtags are used in Twitter alone each day.
What Makes Up a Hashtag?
A hashtag is simply a keyword phrase, spelled out without spaces, with a pound sign (#) in front of it. Wikipedia calls it a type of metadata tag used on social networks. Looking for the sale of a certain drug in social media? Search the hashtag. Be sure to gather the street names the drug uses, so you get a full picture.
How else can this be used in your investigations? If you are working a high profile criminal case you will want to include this in your research. I would recommend starting in Twitter. If you find a fair amount of information there, I recommend using Tweet Deck and build yourself a dashboard. This will allow you to keep track of any developments using relative hashtags in real time.
Once you have located some good hashtags related to your case, cross reference them in other platforms. Not only will it potentially produce some good information (who, what, where and why), it may also allow you to search photos attached to the post for other possible clues.
Case Study: Hashtag Led to Username
A recent scan we conducted on a person of interest came up empty. Using multiple software platforms as well as good old-fashioned hunting, led to nothing. While searching, we found an important hashtag. By researching the hashtag in each social media platform, we located our person of interest. The username was such, that is just didn’t get picked up by any software platform. It was a very unique variance of this individual’s real name. From there we found a very public profile of the subject.
It is just another example of using hashtags in online research.
Hashtags to Try for Investigations
Take a look at some interesting hashtags next time you are in Twitter. One of the best is #breakingnews. This hashtag can quickly bring you up to speed on news breaking in the moment.
There are so many more, as the photo below showcases.