What happened to that social media post you saw yesterday during your recent online investigation? Are you kicking yourself that you did not capture that post when you saw it? It can happen and very often does. The old adage, what is here today, is gone tomorrow, is something that happens all of the time, especially in social media. It may suddenly be changed from “public” to “private” at any point. The user’s entire profile can be deleted at any time. Where will that leave you and your investigation?
Largent V. Reed
Back in 2011 this was not an issue as social media was just starting to grow. In a personal injury lawsuit, Largent v. Reed, the plaintiff claimed that a recent accident had left her with severe physical and mental pain. During the trial, defendants presented her post-accident photos posted to her Facebook profile. These photos revealed the plaintiff was clearly feeling well enough to engage in her daily activities and exercising at her gym on a regular basis.
Fast forward to 2020 and things have changed. People are more aware of what they post and use user names that are different than their real name. Let me give you a recent example. One of our clients requested a deep scan from us for a case that involved fraud. We conducted the scan and produced the report capturing the subject’s Facebook account. Scans include live URL’s as well as screen shots showcasing all publicly available data. Once given to the attorney, he had a question about one of the posts specifically. When attempting to click on the link within the profile post, he came to a dead end. We did capture a screenshot, which in most cases is sufficient for investigative purposes. However, time is critical when conducting this type of research. Looking a little more closely at one of the posts was no longer possible.
Preserving digital data is something many attorneys are starting to take a serious look at and in some cases are requesting from their private investigators. Judges are getting stricter when it comes to allowing social media as evidence in court. Not all cases make it to court of course, but preserving social media may be that extra step that your clients may want you to take.
Social media posts can be altered quickly, often at the advice of opposing counsel. Be sure not to wait too long to capture the data you need and in some cases, be sure to preserve that data.