Social Search

Over the past few years, social search has become a big thing amongst Private Investigators. It feels like I have written about this for even longer. The way social sites have become part of how people communicate and interact never ceases to amaze me. It also amazes me when Investigators fail to properly identify how they find social media content.

When an Investigator finds social media content, he must report the avenue he travelled to arrive at the content. Some search engines are better than others and some index certain sites better than others. Documenting the avenue travelled to the destination is like documenting the chain of custody of a piece of physical evidence. Questions about the search process are a distraction from the nature of the content uncovered. Being unable to clearly answer questions about the search process raise questions about the Investigator’s competence.

Avoid the distractions and embarrassment — fully document the search process.

Getting to Know the Neighbourhood — SocialMention

SocialMention allows you to easily track and measure what people are saying about you, your company, a new product or any topic across the web’s social media landscape in real time. SocialMention monitors over 100 social media sites. I have written about SocialMention before here, here, and here. It is an old favorite.

We use the search plugin that permits searching SocialMention from within the browser’s search.  Once we have a search statement that provides useful results, we subscribe to the RSS feed for that search to monitor the changes in the results.

Getting to Know the Neighbourhood – Tracking Discussions

User-generated discussions (other than Twitter) are typically not indexed by major search engines, as they are not on static pages.

Samepoint is a search engine for conversations and discussions on blogs and social media sites.  It converts these discussions into web pages, or permalinks, and organizes them within a tag cloud. Enter your search query and subscribe to the RSS feed.

BoardTracker covers over 2.4 million live message boards and discussion groups. Google searches message boards as well,  but this gives better results in my experience. Run your search query and subscribe to the RSS feed for your search. To use this search engine properly you do need to sign-up, but it is worth it.


Blippy allows its users to connect their bank accounts and credit cards to Blippy “to automatically or manually post your purchases so that your followers may view them.” It also syncs existing e-commerce accounts to Blippy such as iTunes, Netflix, Woot, eBay and more. Blippy will then ‘tweet’ each purchase, where it was purchased, and the cost. Many of the pictures have imbedded geolocation metadata.

Getting to Know the Neighbourhood – Tracking Tweets

Google, Bing, & Twitter

Google and Bing Social have indexed tweets since 2009. You may also install greasemonkey and a script to put Twitter results on your Google search results page.

Twitter & RSS

Go to Twitter Search, run a search query, click the “Feed for this query” link next to the orange RSS button, and paste the URL into Google Reader. All tweets  for your search will be stored for you.

The “Advanced Search” allows you to set more specific parameters for your search. You can even specify whether you want to see positive or negative tweets, or tweets that ask a question.

Getting to Know the Neighbourhood – Wikipedia Changes

Tracking Wikipedia Changes

Wikipedia has become a source of information for millions, but it is not without its problems. Vandalism occurs, and many authors think they know much more about a topic than they truly do. Many authors have political or commercial agendas that they build into Wikipedia articles. As most of the authors are anonymous or pseudonymous, it is difficult to evaluate the content of an individual article.

Researchers and Investigators must often monitor how political or commercial agendas are expressed in Wikipedia articles. Once you have found an article that is of concern, select the “History” tab above the article, then on the left sidebar click the “Atom” RSS badge under “Toolbox” (Atom is a type of RSS feed). Paste the URL into Google Reader. Repeat this for every article that you need to monitor.

You may do the same for the Discussion tab by going to the Discussion tab and onto its own History tab, where you can select the Atom feed for changes to the Discussion.

Social Media Meta-Search Engines

Meta-search for Social Media Sites

The following social media meta-search engines let you search social networking sites by a person’s name, nickname, phone number, email address and more. Here are some of these search sites and my notes on their utility.

This searches social networks, search engines, photo/video/audio sites, and personal/professional reference sites. Canada isn’t in the country selection drop-down list this may be a problem for common names in a search for a Canadian. Nothing special, but consistently useful results.

This real-time search engine instantly combines results from Twitter and Facebook in an easy-to-read format organized by date stamp. It doesn’t help much if the person doesn’t have one of the above, or if his name isn’t associated with the Twitter account. The best search is for the Twitter @name such as mine @LocusCommunis, Otherwise, you often get nothing.


I have written about this one before.  It’s a real-time search engine searching over a hundred sites from blogs and comments to images and video. When searching names you really must put the name in quotation marks or you get useless results.  Of the three, this is the Investigator’s best choice in my opinion.

Twitter Searching

This Twitter thing has become a necessity to the connected. It is also an evolving search problem for Investigators.

Searching Twitter isn’t as straightforward as I would like. Content disappears in a short time in many search facilities and search results differ depending on which search facility you use.

18 Useful Twitter-related Sites

Here are 18 Twitter-related sites that I have found useful:

Read more

Synonym Searches in Google

The tilde (~) helps you find synonyms of words in a Google search. This is usually done by preceding the term with a ~.  For example, searching using the term ~investigator will yield results with synonyms for investigator. It is also an excellent search to do in Google RealTime when searching social media to ensure you are using the right search terms.

The tilde search is excellent for search term discovery and variance testing.

Detecting Firesheep

I wrote about Firesheep awhile back. Predictably, a countermeasure has appeared called Blacksheep.

New Firefox Add-On Detects Firesheep, Protects You on Open Networks

If you’re concerned about using open Wi-Fi networks because of Firesheep, the highly popular new hacking tool, you should check out BlackSheep, a Firefox add-on that makes surfing on open networks safe once again.

Hijacking Social Network Connections

The Firesheep Firefox plugin makes it easy to hijack someone’s social network connections. For example, Facebook authenticates the client using cookies. If someone logs on using a public WiFi connection, the cookies are sniffable. Firesheep uses Wincap to capture the authentication information which allows you to hijack the connection.

Protect yourself by forcing the authentication through TLS or stop logging into Facebook using public networks.

LinkedIn E-Mail Could Infect Your PC

Warning: Fake LinkedIn E-Mail Could Infect Your PC

Don’t look now, but that “LinkedIn” invite you just received from a “colleague” may in fact be yet another cleverly disguised piece of spam

Other LinkedIn spam isn’t so obvious or so benign though. I also received fake invites that lacked the Viagra Houdini image but still lead to weird sites (like one called “Cernoma”)…

This is not the first time social media has been abused by spammers, and it appears to be a rising trend. (I’ve also written about bogus Amazon spam here.)

This is an excellent article with lots of links to more accounts of social media being used as a vector for spam and malicious code.

FaceBook and Investigations

Facebook: The truth is out there

… Facebook is a good source for data mining.

But one problem is that information gathered is not verified independently.

“These are not facts, just hearsay,” the former Criminal Investigation Department trainer said. “For digital photos, you can’t prove they are original as photos can be manipulated and put on the Web. You can’t authenticate them unless you get the original files from the photographer.”

He added: “This way of getting information is more trendy…but the information should be verified by conducting a proper investigation.”

Only when it is backed up will it be admissible as court evidence, he said.

… [it is] not inconceivable for someone to falsify their whereabouts on such sites.

“There really is no way of proving who was at the computer, which is the problem with any Internet-based investigation,” he said. “Today, one can update Facebook status or tweet Twitter from any device at any location.”

This is an excellent article on the value of searching  social sites.

Internet Detective 105 – Paid Monitoring Services

Social Media Monitoring

As an Investigator, you must realise that even the Vatican uses social media. Some forms of social media are taking on some of the characteristics of email. This information rich environment is something that Investigators and Researchers must understand. To be effective, one must also understand the tools available to conduct thorough research of the social media content.

One must also be able to create accurate budgets for this type of research. To set-up, optimise, and monitor research feeds that cover multiple social media and news sites can take many hours. These services allow one to monitor the social media space for new data or derogatory content. One particular strength of these services is that they search Blog comments, and can track comments and posts of individual contributors. While these services are aimed at PR agencies, they also offer significant utility for the Investigator, but they can be very expensive tools to use.


Techrigy (pronounced tek-err-jee) offers a free account that gets you up to 5 Search Words/Phrases, and store up to 1000 results. This is a great way to learn how to use the system.


Unfortunately Radian6 is expensive — you pay just to have it in your toolbox, and then pay more for each social media research project you undertake. These costs must be understood at the outset and budgeted into the costs of the Investigation.


Unfortunately, at Filtrbox their annual fee for individuals appears to be $1,000USD.


Backtype lets you search comments that mention a brand, company, or topic, but it also lets you search comments left by a particular person.


AttaainCI costs $150 per month for unlimited searching and monitoring. It’s less sophisticated than Radian 6 and Filtrbox which rate Blog comments from positive to negative. This is aimed at the Competitive Intelligence professional rather than the PR agency.