For any investigator tasked with identifying and safeguarding victims of online exploitation, intelligence is key. The more insights, context, and information available, the greater – and quicker – the chance you have to bring help to those in need.
That’s why open-source intelligence (OSINT) is such a valuable resource, enabling investigators to leverage openly available information in their research. We’ve covered a wide range of OSINT subjects in our previous blogs, including a general introduction, the difference between OSINT and CSINT, and what the future of OSINT might look like.
Today, we’re diving into another extremely valuable pool of publicly available information: social media OSINT.
Read on to learn more, including how valuable social media OSINT is to investigators, and some examples of the insights available.
What is social media OSINT?
Put simply, social media OSINT refers to any information that can be freely obtained and is readily available, on social media platforms. This may be in the form of an individual profile, tagged accounts, or other activity.
Social media can provide important context and insights into potential suspects or potential victims.
Combining social media OSINT with other investigative processes, like image forensics, has several benefits for investigators:
- They can detect new or ongoing exploitative networks as early as possible
- They can collect new intelligence that could be useful in future proceedings and research
- They can collect data that is instrumental in locating and identifying victims
What insights can you get from social media OSINT?
There is a wide range of social media platforms to choose from, with each one providing unique intelligence for investigators. Just some of these include:
General posts on social media platforms such as Facebook, X, and even Quora, can carry a lot of contextual information and insights into a suspected individual. Location-specific interests, behaviour and interest insights, and other identity-relevant questions all feature here.
Social media platforms may have updated imagery of both suspected individuals and potential victims. Sites like Flickr could also provide related imagery that could be leveraged for further forensics analysis.
Gained via tagged activity on sites like Instagram, location data is understandably invaluable in supporting the identification and safeguarding of victims, as well as enabling further research into online exploitation cases.
Networks and affiliations
By mapping out relationships between users, investigators can uncover hidden connections and identify individuals involved in illicit activities. Possible network connections can be found on forum-related sites such as Reddit and may reveal further suspected individuals, group activity, other online locations and linked sites to research, or new areas of investigation entirely.
Want to learn more? Why not read our guide on image forensics and the dark web?
Is social media OSINT ethical?
One question that’s commonly asked surrounding social media OSINT is whether online investigations may be infringing on the privacy of users. To answer the question, we need to take two considerations into account.
Firstly, when investigators search for information found on social media, they’re only uncovering information that’s freely available and already in the public domain – meaning that personal privacy is always protected.
Secondly, it’s important to remember the purpose of these investigations: enabling investigators to more effectively identify and safeguard victims of exploitation as soon as possible.
We believe it’s important to continue to discuss what techniques are considered legitimate interest and a proportionate response to this crime. Public trust must be maintained through proper regulation and oversight to ensure the right balance between personal freedoms and protecting our children.
Empowering online investigations
We’re passionate about empowering investigators to access a range of online intelligence, whether that be through creating directories of the best OSINT tools to use, or through the development of leading online tools.
Still interested in learning more? We put together a comprehensive guide on the many ways in which OSINT and image forensics can uncover insights. Learn more about the advantages of OSINT, what investigators need to consider before turning to it, and the future of OSINT tools and techniques in our free downloadable OSINT guide.