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How to Conduct an Effective Social Media Investigation on Facebook

Facebook can be a treasure trove of discoverable data for litigators and litigation support professionals

Last Updated October 2023

Co-Authored by Page Vault Staff and Eric Pesale, Write for Law

With nearly 1.8 billion users worldwide, Facebook has maintained its status as the platform of choice for users looking to share details of their personal lives publicly.  If searched the right way, Facebook can be a treasure trove of discoverable data for litigators and litigation support professionals. Whether for initial research or for court evidence, if you’re wondering how to collect social media data on Facebook, these four tips will help guide your social media investigation research in the right direction.1. Review a User’s Profile Information for Discoverable Social Media Data

Facebook profile sections found beyond the initial Timeline, such as the tabs near the top of the profile pertaining to “About,” “Photos,” “Events,” “Groups,” and “Videos,” are good sources for finding information. Specifically, you can find a user’s residence, employment information, and interests, as well as legally-pertinent audio files, video files and public location check-ins. Even information about a user’s page and groups that they like can be legally significant.

The number of cases where social media content is considered significant continues to grow. For example, in Lester v. Allied Concrete Co., 2011 Va. Cir. LEXIS 245 (Va. Cir. Ct. 2011 Sept. 6, 2011), a husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit after his wife’s death, where later his attorney advised him to “clean up” his Facebook profile and remove a photograph of the husband wearing a “I ♥ Hot Moms” t-shirt. However, defense counsel found the photo before it was removed and fined the plaintiff and his attorney.

2. Conduct an Investigation of a User’s Posts and Content

Litigators will likely find a user’s published comments, notes and messages useful, not just for their content—which can, in part, touch upon a user’s intent and state of mind or lead to discoverable evidence—but also for their embedded location data. If a user has Location Services enabled on Facebook, the content he/she publishes triggers geolocation data that can help pinpoint the Facebook user’s location at the time they posted.

3. Research User Data on Event and Group Memberships

Collecting social media data on a user’s event and group memberships can be useful for locating or finding leads for witnesses and interested parties for cases tied to particular events or local groups.

 

About Page Vault

Page Vault On Demand, an easy way for legal professionals to submit a request for web content to be collected for their initial research or as evidence, can help to capture discoverable data during a Facebook social media investigation. Each capture comes with key metadata (IP addresses, time/date stamps, URLs) that further supports the authentication of the content and that can be used as admissible evidence in court.


This post was co-authored by Eric Pesale, an attorney who writes about eDiscovery, data security and other legal topics for law firms, publications, and companies, and is the founder and chief legal contributor of Write For Law. He is a graduate of New York Law School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has been published in CSO, the New York Law Journal and Above the Law. Eric can be reached at eric@writeforlaw.com or on Twitter at @ericpesale.

This post was updated on March 3, 2021 to more accurately reflect Facebook’s current capabilities.