The power of social media


Many of us, our colleagues, family and friends are actively using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Plus and other social media sites. We use them to communicate with others, telling and revealing so much about our private and professional lives. All often without fully appreciating what data will be harvested and how it will be used. Some of us also use these sites for selling goods and services, and conducting other forms of business.

With so much information about us so readily available in the public domain, it is unsurprising that organisations are using social media sites to investigate individuals; employees, whether consciously or not, might be breaching disciplinary codes, publishing work related information or images that might breach data protection, or simply bringing reputational harm upon an organisation. 

Other obvious areas of research are in relation to benefit, insurance and compensation claims and, of course, enforcement and regulatory teams need to research people and businesses trading and conducting business through social media. 

For organisations using social media sites for research and investigative purposes, it is vital that they do so lawfully and with an awareness of the tools available to support their work. Below are six considerations that organisations should take into account when using social media for investigative and research purposes.

  1. There can be no doubt many social media users are living their private lives in public. Article 8 of The Human Rights Act states everyone has a right to respect for their private life, their family, their relationships with others, and their correspondence (communications with others). Their privacy can only be interfered with if legitimate purposes and certain conditions apply – and then the interference must be necessary and proportionate and not excessive. It is too easy for an organisation to breach Section 6 of the Human Rights Act and act unlawfully.
  2. Images of living persons and personal information is data regulated by the Data Protection Act. Collecting, processing, and storing this information from social media requires strict adherence to the Data Protection Act and associated Information Commissioner Guidance.
  3. Regular monitoring, viewing, re-visiting of social media amounts to surveillance, which might be covert or overt, and require adherence to the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act if your organisation is a designated authority.
  4. Those researching social media often don’t find the information that is available, conducting scant Google or keyword searches, and not using the full potential of various search tools such the Advanced Search tools, Graph Search, Pages, Emotions, Wildcards, tagging and other Metadata and Geo-tagging data. The information obtained is not further developed using other open source internet resources
  5. Information obtained must be evaluated objectively. Who is actually saying this? How do they know this? Can the information be relied upon? Can the information be used as evidence?
  6. Information captured from social media and used as evidence must be captured, stored and produced in accordance with accepted best practice. If it is not – then the evidence might not be accepted at a trial or hearing.

Upcoming social media workshops

The CIPFA Counter Fraud Centre is hosting a series of workshops exploring how to lawfully use and gather the information held within social media channels. Each workshop carries 6 CPD points. Click the dates below to find out more and book your place.