Sharing information about ourselves online is the new normal. We share information to access services, communicate with friends and family, shop on e-commerce sites and pay our bills. With each new interaction, we share our personal and financial data with technology companies and their partners. There is a shift underway in how citizens view the protection of privacy online. This has had an impact on how we share our location, as well as how technology platforms address the use of geographic location data. Law enforcement and security professionals who previously relied on this information to identify threats of violence or to manage a crisis have needed other ways to pinpoint the location of posts online.
What is Geotagging?
Social media posts are often geotagged with a location, but this is not necessarily the same as the location where the content was captured. Geotags can be incorrect, content can be saved and then uploaded from another location, and social media users thousands of miles away can post other people’s content as their own.
“Geofencing”, a term used to describe a virtual perimeter around a geographic location, has been used to locate social posts in the real world. This practice is no longer viable. The type of information that people share, and how they share it, has evolved. As of last year, Twitter has announced that they will no longer support the sharing of precise location within tweets on their platform as part of that trend. Geofencing is based on a precise location. Sometimes you can see a geographic location tied to a particular post, but this info can be easily manipulated. Metadata can also be manipulated. Investigators have needed to adopt new methods for identifying the Internet posts tied to a different location.
How People Share Location
People have become pretty savvy about how they use their favorite platforms. Posts and content are heavily annotated with detailed information including their location. Even when users have opted out of location sharing, they often still share their location. If the substance of a post is tied to a specific location or event, hashtags and keywords are often added manually by users. To locate posts coming from somewhere in Los Angeles, for example, you might search:
- State Names – #California or #Cali
- City Names – search for “Los Angeles” or #LA or #LosAngeles
- Slang City Names – search for #CityofAngels or #LaLaLand
- Airport Codes – search for LAX
- Nearby Landmarks – search for #HollywoodSign or #santamonicapier
- Streets & Intersections – #vermontave or #vermontavenue
- Neighbourhood & District Names – #belair or #gramercy park
You might also consider popular expressions that are used while in a location, such as #californiadreaming. Realistically, you will use a number of different ways in combination to discover posts from specific locations. While people are able to manipulate the information they post, they are far more likely to post nothing at all than erroneous hashtags or terms in the body of their post if privacy was really a concern.
Why It Matters
For security professionals who use social media data to investigate crimes and safeguard people, places, and assets, this shift will require agility and an evolving understanding of how locations are shared online. Media Sonar has evolved alongside communication and investigative trends to meet their needs. Our software lets you easily search and detect posts from locations using advanced search queries. Your teams are able to build complete keyword groups to define how you will search for a specific location, and use them again each time they are needed. Ultimately, the most important skill to develop for verifying a location is the skill of observation. Pay attention to the details. Information can be misleading, and people communicate location in different ways. Build intelligence over time to improve your location searches, and get access to the right tools and sources that will speed up your search.