Abstract: As online activities and communities have become an integral part of many people’s lives, attorneys have clamored for a way to get a handle on the massive amounts of data on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, among others. This article explains how experts in social media analytics can provide valuable assistance throughout litigation, from investigation to jury selection. The article points out that social media analytics can assist attorneys and their clients in identifying relationships and unearthing information they could spend months looking for manually and still miss. A sidebar notes that social media analytics also helps companies conduct internal investigations of employees.
Spotlight on electronic evidence
Social media permeates nearly all segments of our society, and litigation is no exception. As online activities and communities have become an integral part of many people’s lives, it’s no wonder that attorneys have clamored for a way to get a handle on the massive amounts of data lurking out there on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
That’s where social media analytics comes into play. Experts who are well versed in this emerging methodology can use the techniques to provide valuable assistance throughout litigation, from investigation and discovery to jury selection. With social media apparently here to stay, you need to understand how this form of data mining can pay off for you and your clients.
Why does social media matter?
Facebook boasts more than 1 billion daily active users. Twitter claims 310 million monthly active users. Instagram reports more than 500 million monthly active users and more than 300 million daily active users. With that kind of activity, you simply can’t afford to ignore social media or the wealth of information on it that people voluntarily make available about themselves.
For whatever reason, many people seem comfortable posting information, opinions and preferences they wouldn’t necessarily share in other settings. They also could make posts that serve evidentiary purposes, such as pinning down their locations on certain dates and at certain times. Photos, for example, can prove someone was, or wasn’t, where she said she was at a specific time. Photos also might show someone performing tasks or pursuing activities he claims to be incapable of as the result of an accident. Some posts could reveal undisclosed assets in a divorce.
Even people who have their privacy settings on high aren’t in the clear if their “friends” aren’t equally vigilant. For example, you might not have access to a plaintiff’s Facebook page — but if he or she appears in any way on the page of a friend whose profile is public (for example, in photos or by making comments), social media analytics can generate insights on that plaintiff. There’s really no end to the data you might find.
What is social media analytics?
With people posting multiple times each day, on multiple platforms, it can seem daunting to review all of the data. You might be tempted to stick with more traditional ways to search for the smoking gun. But with social media analytics, the task becomes more manageable and less time consuming.
Social media analytics uses algorithms to dig through expansive mounds of publicly available social media data. It can provide critical intelligence — not just on what people are talking about and the photos, videos and other posts they share but also whom they’re connected to on social media — all in a quick and efficient manner.
The ability to identify relationships is particularly important, as these relationships may well generate leads or witnesses you might otherwise never come across. What are the odds of discovering a connection between your accounts receivable administrator and the billing clerk at one of your vendors through traditional methods? But if they’re connected on LinkedIn, Instagram or another social network, social media analytics will identify the relationship so you can better focus your investigation and discovery.
Of course, social media analytics isn’t limited to the online presence of the parties or others implicated in the litigation — you also can use it to improve your jury selection. Social media may reveal employment histories; education; connections to the parties; political affiliations, hobbies and interests; opinions on relevant issues; and other information that could affect how a juror views your case.
What do you have to lose?
Social media data can make or break a case these days — if you manage to ferret out the critical information. Social media analytics can assist you in identifying relationships and unearthing information you could spend months looking for manually and still miss.
Sidebar: Social media analytics and corporate investigations
Social media analytics isn’t useful only for litigation purposes. Companies increasingly find the methodology effective when conducting internal investigations of employees suspected of misusing company information or committing fraud. While a tip that an employee is up to no good often triggers an investigation, other information, such as threatening social media postings or online leaks of confidential information, also can prompt an investigation.
Regardless of how an investigation starts, social media analytics can help. In the case of suspicions against particular employees, analytics might pull together social media profiles to determine what they’re saying online, whom they’re connected with and whether they’ve undergone any changes in lifestyle (for example, buying fancy cars or homes, or taking luxurious vacations). If you’re looking into anonymous threats, leaks or the like, analysts can use the tools to get the name behind the accounts.