How to collect Social Media Evidence and Preserve its Integrity

Part of our lives captured forever and held on social media platforms, these data are increasingly proving critical as evidence in investigations the world over. 
3 mins read

Remember the reasons why you used to talk on the phone? Ordering a taxi, takeaway, or a ticket to a gig, doctor's appointments, train tickets, and chatting to friends, when did it all go online?  How would we cope without the internet? Over the past 20 years, it has become critical to our daily life. We use video calls to talk to our friends and relatives, online stores to buy our groceries, and social media to share what sometimes shouldn't be shared!  

Our obsession with social media started at the turn of the century with MySpace. Then came YouTube, closely followed by Facebook and Twitter, which led to an explosion of sites letting you share anything, by any means to anyone. And we embraced it, downloading social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok billions of times over. 

There is now a vast amount of data relating to the most whimsical parts of our lives captured forever and held on social media platforms, these millions of tiny points of data are increasingly proving critical as evidence in investigations the world over.  


1. The term ‘social media evidence’ explained

Social media evidence is data stored on a social media platform required to support or prove a relevant fact during an investigation or court proceeding. For example, a Facebook update can provide time, date, and location information, possibly helping to support an alibi in court. 


2. Social media platforms

There are quite literally hundreds of examples of social media; below are some of the most common;



All the above sites contain multiple forms of data that you can extract and use to prove a point of contention, including images, videos, locations, words, times, dates, comments, and contacts.   


3. Collecting social media evidence

'Recording online content should be a fairly straightforward process' you could be excused for thinking. Print a copy of the webpage, take a screenshot of the social media comment, or even take a photo, all these processes are perfectly adequate for simply replicating what's on your screen, but will they hold up in court? The answer, unless you properly authenticate the recording, is inevitably not. The very nature of a social media site is that it is interactive and easily updated, meaning that it can have a different appearance from one minute to the next. In addition to its dynamic nature, it is also relatively straightforward to create fake or duplicate profiles and manipulate them to show pretty much anything you need. We have already discussed the complexities of screenshot evidence in a previous Article , and a printout of the page is even less reliable due to photoshopping techniques. So how can we authenticate a record of social media evidence? 


4. Authenticating social media evidence

The methods for authenticating your evidence will vary from one country to another and will be dependent on established court procedures; however, there are some standard processes. 


  • A testimony of a witness with knowledge of the social media content can verify the accuracy of the data. 
  • An expert witness (digital forensic expert) or a trier of the fact (the jury) can compare the evidence to original material to provide authentication. 
  • Distinctive characteristics, for example, the appearance, contents, or other unique features of the evidence, taken together with all the circumstances, can authenticate the evidence. 
  • Evidence describing a process or system showing that it produces an accurate result in line with the specimen. 
  • Verification by a notary, providing an affidavit declaring that the evidence is a true representation of the original data as sighted by them. 


5. Social media evidence and blockchain technology

You can use blockchain to evidence the integrity of social media by a process known as hashing; it gets a bit technical here but bear with it. 

Upon committing data to a blockchain, an algorithm encrypts it; for example, Bitcoin blockchain uses Secure Hashing Algorithm 256 (SHA 256). No matter how complex or simple, any amount of data encrypted using SHA 256 gets converted into a 256-bit hash value of 64 characters. This 64 character hash is unique to the original data. And, even if a single value within the original data is changed, SHA 256 will generate a completely different hash. SHA 256 is also one-way, meaning that you can't decrypt the hash value to provide the data source. 

Once produced, the hash value gets stored within a block of data. Every block has a header; within that header is a hash value of all the data held in that block and the previous block. This header along with a timestamp from when a miner verified the block, creates an unbreakable chain. 

By providing a single irrefutable source of truth, blockchain can prove the authenticity of social media content at a precise moment in time.  


6. Advantages of storing evidence on blockchain

Blockchain offers many advantages over traditional means of storing data, but here are three key features;


Secure - Due to the decentralised network and encryption methods, blockchain provides immutable storage of data. 


Honest - Transactions on a blockchain are viewable by the public, giving transparency to your business and increasing trust. 


Private - While the transactions are public, your data is personal and held only by you, giving you greater control over your information and how you use it. 


7. Collect Evidence from Internet and Social Media with LifeHash


Thanks to a personal blockchain, like LifeHash, you can store data from your social media in a way that it can’t be altered. LifeHash can take any data from applications like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, Youtube, Pinterest and Tumblr. This includes the following data:

       

  • Screenshots
  • Text
  • Metadata
  • Timestamp
  • Geolocation


By using this data, you could take a screenshot of a DM conversation or a text conversation and then secure it in a way that proves that it really happened. Thanks to the accompanying data, like timestamp and geolocation you can prove that the information hasn’t been edited or tampered with. 


The p2p personal blockchain, based on Bitcoin and DigiByte, ensures that the data can not be edited by anyone after the moment of recording it in LifeHash. This makes it possible to use the data as irrefutable proof and evidence.

FAQs

What evidence can be gained from social media?

Vast quantities of data are captured and stored by social media platforms, including but not limited to locations, times, dates, photos, videos, comments, and contacts. All these data points can be used independently or in conjunction with one another to prove necessary points within investigations. 


Can social media be used as evidence?

You can use social media as evidence to prove something so long as it has been authenticated by a recognised means.   


How do you authenticate social media evidence in court?

We covered this question in greater detail in the above article, but if you missed it, there are several methods; however, they may vary depending on where you live and the established process of your local courts.  

  • Witness Testimony
  • Expert Witness
  • Notary Affidavit
  • Distinctive Characteristics
  • Unique process or systems corroborating results


What are some of the problems of using social media as evidence?

Social media is a rapidly changing platform that can be updated and changed in an instant due to its very nature. In conjunction with the ease with which you can create fake or duplicate user profiles, this dynamism makes it difficult for standard processes to capture and present authenticated data accurately.  


Tags

Electronic Evidence

Related Posts