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Social Media as an Investigative Tool

Secura Insurance Companies is recruiting for a Social Media Claims Investigation Intern, whose basic responsibilities include:

  • Utilize various social sites including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace to gather information for potential claims cases.
  • Utilize other online avenues and Websites to obtain information on potential claimants.
  • Monitor any online activity pertaining to specific individuals.
  • Report suspicious online activity or information to claim representatives.

This helps illustrate two trends in social media: the use by third parties of social media to gather information about people, and the recruitment of the most junior possible personnel to perform social media responsibilities. (I won’t comment on the latter except to note that it seems asking a student to monitor people online ten hours a week for nothing — the Secura position is an internship — has the potential to lead to some interesting consequences.)

We’ve all read stories of people who learned that their employer, a credit reporting agency, a landlord or someone else had collected information about them using social media sources. Anyone who is surprised that this goes on has not been paying attention and only has himself or herself to blame if it happens to them. To repeat my favorite Marshall McLuhan quote on this topic: “Publication is self invasion of privacy.” In other words, if you don’t want the world to know about it, don’t post it on your Facebook page.

There have been many reports of law enforcement using social media as an investigative tool. In March of this year it was reported that the FBI was creating Facebook identities and then sending friend requests to people under investigation to gain access to their personal data and goings-on.

So far, rulings on whether these practices violate privacy have been mixed, but no doubt, these activities will continue. It is also inevitable that much of this will come to be accepted as legitimate use of social media. We live so much of our lives online that it would be difficult to expect the global village to be “off limits” for corporate and law enforcement use.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) are good sources of information on these topics and companies that wish to use social media in this way would be well advised to review the law and consumer reaction to these practices.

Join The Conversation

  • Avi Kaye's picture
    Dec 1 Posted 6 years ago Avi Kaye

    (this isn't related to you, Joel, but why don't I get an email notification when someone comments on a post I've commented on, like every other blog/forum/site I know? I have to actively hunt down my comments to see if they were responded to?)

    And now to what matters :)

    I didn't say that your claims were unsubstantiated. On the contrary, I said that you stated facts that were out there - new facts, as the case was, and I'm not saying that you are re-hashing old news.

    196 ways that.... are blogs that I don't like reading in any case, and that wasn't my point. My point was that I want to hear YOUR opinion on the matter. Not 196 ways that people are using SM. Not the latest job posting. What YOU made of it. The fact of the matter is that many blog posts (not necessarily yours) are made up of 80% facts and 20% opinion. I can read the facts for myself. I will formulate my own opinion, based on my experience, my previous encounters with the same kind of data, and on my education. I want to hear what you have to say about them.

    "So what do you think, Avi? This is the age of participative media. Your opinion maters just as much as mine does, probably more."

    Thank you for the flattery, but it doesn't. My opinion matters just as much as yours. No more, no less. (At least here. At your workplace, your opinion will probably matter more :)). Which is why I want to hear other people.

    As for my opinion?

    Most large companies still see Social Media as a large playground, not something that really needs to be taken seriously.

    "Sure, we need someone to look over social networks and find information, but surely it is as easy as typing search terms into Google, right? And young people like social networks - hey! It's an excellent fit! And they're cheap too!"

    When they get bad results from Social Media - not the traffic they expected, not finding the materials they thought were there, etc., they blame the social networks and social media for not working properly, or not delivering as promised, because people don't really use them, or use their real life information to complete their profile, or that clicking 'likes' does nothing in the real world. The companies don't attach any blame to the fact that they hired someone who doesn't really know what they are doing, and don't receive the proper training to do the job, which requires more skill than thought, as you and I know.

    It will take another few years before social media skills become standardized, and only then you'll have companies looking for '1st degree in Social Media Studies" to investigate claims :)

  • Nov 29 Posted 6 years ago socialized

    I don't think a blog post needs to feel like the Bataan Death March, Avi. A post on the 196 Ways People Are Using Social Media as an Investigative Tool is useless. Instead, I make a number of well substantiated claims in rapid order, with solid backup, and then express my opinion clearly and tersely.

    As I wrote "Anyone who is surprised that this goes on has not been paying attention and only has himself or herself to blame if it happens to them... if you don’t want the world to know about it, don’t post it on your Facebook page." I also write in the close that rulings have been mixed but that people should expect social media-based investigation to become an everyday part of their lives.

    Secura posted their job description 11/23, so this was not a fact anyone knew before. It provides a rare glimpse into how companies see themselves as they are doing this kind of investigation online. Usually, all we hear is consumer histeria. (Think Foursquare check-ins and burglaries.) The Secura position also substantiates the notion that many social media roles are staffed by inexperienced, young, and underpaid (or not paid at all employees).

    So what do you think, Avi? This is the age of participative media. Your opinion maters just as much as mine does, probably more.

  • Avi Kaye's picture
    Nov 29 Posted 6 years ago Avi Kaye

    And? I got the feeling I was reading half a post here. You posted some information, correlated it to a world wide trend (and put the most interesting bit - your own observation - in parentheses). 

    You could have done so much more with that - not necessarily longer, but with more meaning.

    Keep in mind that I read the post because I want to hear your opinion. I already know the facts.

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