Preliminary Investigation: Social networks

Previously I’ve suggested you investigate your Prospective Defendant (PD) by searching for him/it on google and court web sites.

You’ve got one more investigative weapon: social networks. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter can provide personal, even deliciously creepy, information because a slew of people have no common sense or discretion about what they put on these sites.

In fact, the New York Times pointed out how foolish people can be when they get their fingers onto computer keyboards, as if their fingers operate independent of their brains. From the Sidebar point of view, here’s the most significant quote from this piece, which focuses on sexual harassment:

THE wide use of online technology has altered the texture of some forms of harassment, and sometimes makes it easier to document abuse.

Steven Foster, president and C.E.O. of Business Controls, a Denver-based company that investigates harassment claims for employers, says he is astonished by what people will say over company e-mail or send over employer-paid cellphones. “It’s also made it a hell of a lot easier for organizations to investigate,” he said.

We’ve all read about people putting embarrassing photos of themselves on these sites. I wouldn’t expect you’ll find this sort of thing on your PD unless he’s a real dope (or adolescent), but a careful reading of a Facebook portrait can tell you a lot about the character and, essentially, the hypocrisies and pretensions of the person you’ll be suing.

People use social network sites to promote themselves or, rather, to promote an ego-structured ideal of themselves. They exaggerate; they lie, they pose and preen. They talk way too much. Analyze the junk; you’ll reap psychological insight.

You might have to join these sites to search in them. If so, no harm: they’re free and you can always drop out after you use them. (But, gee, I needn’t warn you about putting hot info about yourself on them. You don’t want to feed their investigation into you.)

I suggest printing out whatever social information you gather about your PD (just in case he realizes what he’s told you and goes back to delete). You can stick it into your binder under a tab called “Psychology of the PD.”

I haven’t yet learned how or if you can search Twitter solely with the name of your PD. In fact, I can’t find myself on Twitter … except that I know how I post. (Which is @naomis_sidebar. I confess I haven’t figured out how to put that stupid little bird icon-thing on this site or, for that matter, why I should put that stupid little bird icon-thing onto this site.)

If your PD has, unlike me, been able to stick his Twitter name on Facebook or LinkedIn, use it. Given the 140-character tweet limit, you can derive a PD Inane Factor. He might, for example, fall into that mindless shtick of telling you where he is, and where he’s going. And he might drop a tweet he hopes is high-falutin’, about some art he’s just seen — but spells the artist’s name wrong.

So go, my children, and be blessed with exciting results.

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