Social Media OSINT: Talking about Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT)
Social Media provides a fire hose of data that is open to careful analysis.
In today’s world, social media is like our second life. It provides news, entertainment and general amusement direct to our mobile devices. These likes, posts and reposts provide a unique social footprint, allowing skilled investigators the opportunity of processing this data to look for sentiments, trends and viewpoints. In today’s article we’ll start to explore this digital world, looking at how investigators, journalists and law enforcement harness this data and use it to carry out online investigations and gather intelligence on various matters of interest.
Why Does It Matter:
The valuable part of Open Source intelligence is in fact the Open Source part, allowing any one to access and leverage this data for their own means. What also makes this data valuable however is the vast array of information it provides on various topics across a range of issues.
The open source component of this data provides accountability, with in depth analysis and processing conducted, reviewing and uncovering new trends and insights around social media habits. However there’s one particular fact around data analysis that isn’t particularly well known to the general public and that is the deanonymising of information. Particularly useful in the military and commercial espionage worlds, this is a topic we’ll be exploring in depth in an upcoming article. For the topic of today’s article however, we simply need to know that it exists.
How Does it Work
As we look at unpacking the methodology we need to understand that like many investigative techniques, strategies can be vast and can vary depending on the type of investigation being performed. Monitoring social media around an major event or incident will require different techniques to say, sentiment detection or sock puppetry. While this typically isn’t a problem for analysts it does show the importance of knowing what you’re looking for, and how to obtain it prior to commencing your inquiries.
However there are some similarities that remain relevant across the board so we’ll start by exploring those first.
Firstly we’ll need a way to collect our social media intelligence. This will mostly likely depend on the type of app you’re trying to analyse but there’s a wide range of tools that are available for most apps.
Next we’ll need a way to process our data according to our investigative goals. While a lot of tools can do this as part of the collection process, in some instances this may need to be done more intensively meaning that other tools and strategies will apply.
Lastly we’ll need a way to present that data for argument and analysis or corroboration. This could be something as simple as a social media post that presents your research in a text only format, but for the most part you’ll have better success using supporting material, like images or other research pieces. These could be self generated (like a graph or info graphic) or automated (like an analytics report or similar).
At its core, Social Media OSINT is about collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data from social media platforms.
While the types and scope of data tends to vary, just some of the datasets that are useful for analysis purposes are:
1. Profiles and Biographical Information
Social media users often share personal details such as their names, locations, birthdays, and educational backgrounds. This data can be useful for understanding the demographics of a particular group or region.
2. Social Connections
Friend lists, followers, and mutual connections can help create a web of relationships, revealing who interacts with whom and the dynamics of these relationships.
3. Location Data
Geotagged posts, check-ins, or mentions of specific locations can provide insight into where individuals have been, potentially aiding in location-based investigations.
4. Sentiment Analysis
By analyzing the content of posts and comments, you can gauge the sentiment of users toward a particular topic, product, or event. This is invaluable for businesses, marketing, and public relations.
5. Event Tracking
Monitoring social media can help you track and analyze events as they unfold. From natural disasters to political protests, this real-time information can be indispensable for journalists, researchers, and emergency responders.
6. User-Generated Content
User-generated content such as images, videos, and blog posts can be analyzed to extract information, sentiments, or even to identify potential security threats.
These are just some of the more common types of data used within these types of investigations however skilled analysts will be able to find and manipulate data relevant to their situation.
Technical Skills and Privacy:
If you’re intending to look at adding social media analysis to your skillset, there’s a few additional tips to consider along the way.
Firstly, while web interfaces and GUI based tools do exist for OSINT, you’ll typically find that the deeper your investigations go the more data you have to process and analyse. In a lot of instance the best way to do this processing is with the assistance of command line tools. The command line is a powerful tool for gathering and manipulating data, and many scripts and software packages are available to help you along your way. If you’re particularly keen, you can even use AI based systems to help your learning.
Lastly, it should go without saying however we’re going to say it anyway. If you’re conducting intelligence gathering on social media, it’s wise to follow a few standard operating procedures in the name of privacy.
- Use a VPN or Proxy
- Use a well crafted sock puppet account so you aren’t using your personal account.
- Consider anonymity and your target audience when building your accounts. It will make your end job easier by providing legitimacy.
- Consider using a virtual machine or online provider. This provides an additional layer of protection.
Adding these protections into your workflow give you the best chance at performing your inquiries without drawing undue attention to yourself.
In our next article on this topic, we’ll look at some useful tools for conducting SOCMINT investigations.
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