The social networking phenomenon Facebook has garnered tremendous interest from personal and business sectors, as millions of people sign up to share massive amounts of information with an ever-widening group of “friends.” Now in its eighth year, Facebook had over 900 million users as of May 2012. More than half these users access the site via a mobile device.1 The United States accounts for 157 million of those members. According to the United States Census, the population of the United States in July 2012 is 313 million people. You do the math.
Although its recent initial public offering was a financial flop, Facebook is still the predominant social networking site in the world, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
For those engaged in litigation who need information about plaintiffs, witnesses, defendants, and even expert witnesses, the site offers a virtual cornucopia of data that can enhance a deposition or cross examination. It is a vital tool for the professional legal investigator.
Here, in no particular order, are 5.5 (actually six, but I love the alliteration!) features of Facebook for Florida attorneys (and attorneys for any other state).
Do you need to identify a subject for a surveillance or service of process? That’s the beauty of Facebook. There’s your subject in living color. He or she may be in a costume or in silhouette, in color or black and white, with or without a spouse or partner. Sometimes you’ll find someone who just has a blank profile (the familiar “blue face”). But more often than not, people who want to communicate something about themselves to family, extended family and friends will share their face with the world.
Are you trying to locate someone for service, but can’t find a lead to their whereabouts? We have often found people using a proprietary database report that identifies relatives, and then backtracked through those Facebook profiles to locate our subject. This can be a great assistance with a subject who has a common name. There is usually a relative with an uncommon name, and that may person be easier to identify and thus, begin your search.
This feature in the “About” section of the Facebook profile page, often provides some of the following information:
- Date of birth
- Current location
- Political and religious views
- Relationship status
- Contact information (phones, email, Skype)
With this data, a professional investigator can develop multiple leads into a full exploration of the subject’s background.
It’s all about the “friends” on Facebook. Some people have only a handful, others have thousands. For a time, I was a “friend” to a prominent attorney in Miami who was very active on Facebook. In a few short months, he went from about 2000 friends to well over 4000. For this lawyer, Facebook was a marketing tool, but he was also involved with it personally, expressing his political and religious views to those who commented on his posts. I engaged in a lengthy online discussion with this individual whom I had never met. We spent about an hour exchanging posts on a Sunday afternoon. That’s the beauty of social media, and also its danger.
I recall when email first became ubiquitous. Co-workers commented on everything under the sun, often making comments that were inappropriate and unrelated to employment (I plead guilty to this charge). It took several years and extensive employment litigation before people began to discipline themselves about what they were sending out to everyone they worked with.
The same thing is true with Facebook. It takes some experience to utilize this medium appropriately. In the meantime, unless privacy settings (which are always evolving) are carefully set, things written in posts should be assumed to be compromised and not subject to any expectations of privacy. Savvy investigators are able to see comments written to “friends” using a variety of access points, including through the profiles of “friends” of the subject who have not set their privacy settings carefully.
Curious about your subject’s hobbies, his tastes in entertainment, her favorite vacations spots? Visit his “Likes” page and review his Favorite selections. Here you will find his favorite books, movies and music; his sports teams and favorite blogs; television shows and philosophical leanings. It always spices up a deposition when you can make a casual reference to the last season of “Nip/Tuck,” and ask your witness what she liked about the show.
Okay, this is the .5 portion of the 5.5 features. Photographs and videos may reveal your subject in various aspects of his or her life. Videos from a vacation spot, wedding, or child’s dance or piano recital will be posted here. Photos from family gatherings or sports events might reveal relationships or activities that may be suspect or useful in litigation. Deeply held political or religious views might be obvious or openly displayed. New relationships previously unknown can be recorded here. Even the background in an otherwise neutral photograph might provide information about employment or residence that could prove vital to your litigation.
For the attorney involved in litigation, Facebook is a vast gold mine of information about the people in your case. When you are doing a background investigation on witnesses, adverse parties, expert witnesses, and even your own clients, contact the professional legal investigators and researchers at Complete Legal Investigations, Inc. Let us help you uncover the nuggets of information that can be leveraged into larger verdicts and better settlements. Call us at 561-687-8381, or visit us online at www.CompleteLegalInvestigations.com.
And while you’re at it, “like” us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Complete-Legal-Investigations-Inc/125077390880677
After all, isn’t that what Facebook is all about?