Authenticating Social Media Evidence: Preserving “Distinct Characteristics” With Metadata


How can digital evidence be authenticated and preserved?

The advent of social media has changed our conception of the “smoking gun” – the piece of evidence that can make or break a case. These days, key pieces of evidence are more likely to be found displayed online than hidden amongst dusty boxes of records and documents. Frequently, evidence takes the form of a social media post, interaction, or photograph – the smoking “tweet,” if you will.

Though the availability of such evidence can be a boon for attorneys, social media evidence presents its own unique set of issues – namely admissibility. Courts and regulatory bodies are behind the technological curve and are scrambling to codify how exactly social media evidence should be preserved, archived, and presented in order to be admissible in court.

Without delving too deeply into considerations of admissibility that apply to all forms of evidence generally, consider a question unique to social media – how exactly can digital evidence (like social media) be authenticated and preserved?

Preserving Distinctive Characteristics of Social Media

Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(4)  provides examples of techniques which may be used to authenticate evidence. Even the most cursory glance at the statute reveals that most of the techniques either do not apply, or apply poorly to social media evidence (i.e. non-expert opinion about handwriting). However, there are a few points worth noting when discussing the admissibility of social media evidence.

Consider, for instance, Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(4) which lists the following as a method of evidence authentication:

Distinctive Characteristics and the Like. The appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics of the item, taken together with all the circumstances.”

Though unapparent to the social media user and viewer, each action we take on social media leaves behind a string of unique identifying information. This information, known as metadata, can provide valuable information about the social media post in question, including information about the user’s location at the time of posting, the specific time the post was made, information regarding the device used to access media platform, and more.

Clearly, this metadata has value as a “distinctive characteristic” under Rule 901(b)(4), thereby helping to authenticate the social media evidence in question. However, without the proper software to archive, preserve, and extract this metadata, the value of this unique identifying information may be lost.

Thorough Social Media Investigations and Social Media Evidence Preservation

Our team of experienced private investigators knows the value of social media evidence. That’s why we stay ahead of technological trends that affect our clients. We have access to powerful software that preserves and archives this valuable metadata, ensuring that nobody deletes, modifies, or otherwise harms the admissibility of the evidence.

This enables us to capture social media posts made by a specific person at any given time or made by any person near a particular location. We can even archive social media posts by location and time, giving  us the ability to archive social media activity made contemporaneous to a particular event in a particular place.

We provide peace of mind for attorneys, knowing that crucial social media evidence and metadata will be preserved, archived, and admissible in court.  To get started, submit a case now or call IISAZ at (520) 882-2723 or (602) 358-7759.