Opportunities for investigators from social media intelligence

Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT), a sub-discipline of Open Source Intelligence, deals specifically with social media platforms, although the workflow is similar. At a basic level, it refers to finding profiles, examining comments and connections, and generally turning open data from online platforms into actionable intelligence. Applications and websites such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter are just the tip of the iceberg, as the more connected we are, the more relevant social media investigations become.

Social media intelligence is a specialized field, but it is broad in scope. While everyone is involved in some form of social media intelligence at one point or another, such as looking up new acquaintances to see if you have friends in common, doing it professionally is another matter. Entities such as government agencies, law enforcement agencies and private intelligence firms all use social media investigations to monitor suspects and inform strategic decisions.

The opportunities social media intelligence provides

Social media has infiltrated every aspect of our lives - so much so that entire industries have moved to the platform. For artists, it has become a way to showcase their art and influencers. What many people started out with in response to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is now something they check first thing in the morning. With such a comfortable environment integrated into everyone's lives, it is not surprising that some of these people actually act maliciously.

This means that sometimes, criminal activity can be hidden in plain sight. The main advantage of social media intelligence is that it allows investigators to keep a close eye on the public pulse. After all, a great deal of valuable information can be gleaned from standard open content. For example, a common photo can sometimes easily reveal sensitive information. Using this aspect of social media activity, social media intelligence analysts can uncover patterns and relationships, which in turn can be represented graphically to provide a clearer picture of ongoing investigations.

Social media investigations offer a variety of opportunities for investigators due to the rapid fluidity of the platforms.

1. Crowdsourced information

Citizens can act as civilian journalists to ensure a better flow of information, which is critical in times of emergency and public unrest.

2. Research and understanding

Through public sentiment analysis and engagement reports, market researchers can keep track of rising trends, and intelligence officers can gauge the propensity of public opinion on specific topics.

3. Situational awareness

Sometimes social channels can provide faster access to developments than traditional news sources. Thus, the use of social media intelligence can provide investigators with an almost instant picture of a given event.

4. Insight into groups

The real-time nature of social media allows researchers to stay ahead of the curve and gain insight into possible criminal intent through public sentiment monitoring.

5. Identification of criminal activity

Social media intelligence processes can be used to flag a variety of illegal activities, while cases can be effectively developed through cross-referencing and link analysis.