Personal social media use has exploded in the last 10 years—and so have the potential places where evidence for your case might be hiding. Facebook, in particular, has a number of different page types, content types, and ways to access information on the platform.
At Page Vault, we work with legal professionals every day to make sure they’re finding and preserving the right Facebook content in a legally-admissible way. Here’s a primer on Facebook content and where to look for your case.
Privacy Settings and Ethical Considerations
Facebook is primarily designed to share information with those in your social circles—not necessarily with the broader world. Profiles and Groups, and well as individual “posts”, photos, and videos, all have their own privacy settings. If a profile or a post is public, anyone can see and access that content, but if a person only shared content with their friends or acquaintances, you may not be able to see it if you are not their friend on Facebook.
It can be tempting to “friend” the party you’re researching to gain access to information they only share with their network. But don’t send a friend request or a message—that could put you in violation of your bar association’s ethics standards. If you’re not sure if you can access the information you need, contact a web content collection specialist who can act as a trusted third party.
Most Common Types of Content to Collect on Facebook
As Facebook has grown and matured over the years, the functionality and options for interacting on the platform have exploded. When looking through Facebook for discovery, it’s helpful to be aware of the most common types of content that are on Facebook’s platform:
- Posts, which are typically brief but can be much longer, are the basic way of sharing on Facebook. Posts are how users share updates, links, stories or other media on most page types.
- Comments are messages or media made in response to a post. These appear below the original post and below the reactions.
- Replies are comments in response to a prior comment. These appear threaded below the original comment.
- Reactions are the emoji options to like, love, laugh, or otherwise quickly share a feeling about a post. These show up just below the post content, with small symbols (such as a “thumbs-up”) and a number with the count of people who have reacted.
- Photos and videos can be loaded directly into the photo section of a user’s profile, explained below, or shared directly into a post.
- Facebook Live is Facebook’s live-streaming video option. Videos recorded via Facebook Live can be saved and made available on the user’s profile in their timeline, if they select to do so.
- Facebook Notes are a dedicated area to publish long-form content. While not as frequently used as posts, some people do use Facebook notes as a sort of private blog.
Additional information is available on individual users on their Profile, which we cover later in this guide.
Where to Find Relevant Information on Facebook
Profiles – Profiles are where Facebook aggregates all the information on a single person. The main section of a profile page is the user’s Timeline, a chronological listing of the user’s posts, updates, and shared media. The profile is also where you can find general information the person has shared like employment, education, and hometown, their list of Facebook friends, and photos they’ve shared.
Pages– Much like Profiles, Pages are public profiles for a company or public figure, rather than the personal profiles of individuals. Pages can be a good way to track the activities of any company, organization, or entity you’re researching. For example, if the business you’re monitoring sells products that link to patent or trademark infringement, you might want to take an authenticated screen capture of product pictures for your case.
Groups – Facebook Groups allow people to post and comment on a common topic, such as a hobby or interest group. Groups can be closed, with posts and information available only to those who are granted access to the Group, or they can be public, which means the content is available for anyone to view. You cannot see all the groups a user is a member of through their profile, but if the group is public, you can see the members of the group and all the posts, and search for them in the group search box in the left sidebar.
Events – Events pages allow a person or organization to invite people to an event and allow attendees to indicate interest or if they’re coming. Event pages can be helpful in discovery, as many of these pages show member and attendee lists, which you can use as a springboard for further research and additional contacts. Facebook also compiles a user’s history of past attendance at events. To access this, visit that user’s profile, click the “More” button and then select “Events” to see a timeline of events the user was invited to and attended.
The Elements of a User’s Facebook Profile
Often cases require a deeper dive on individual people, and doing research on a Facebook user’s Profile can be a deep well of information. Here we’ll dive into the main types of information available in a user profile.
Timeline – The profile timeline is a running list of most of the posts, photos, videos, and other shared activity associated with a user.
About – Just under the header image and profile picture are a few menu options, the first of which is the About page. The information displayed will depend on what information the user has provided but can include user’s work history, education, hometown, and when they joined Facebook. This information is only available if the person has provided it to be included in their profile.
Photos – Photos that the user has shared on Facebook display in a grid on the photos page, including photos posted to their Timeline and those posted directly to a Photos Album. To see an individual photo’s comments and reactions, click on an image to see the details for that photo.
Videos – Videos are an option from the “More” button in the profile navigation bar. The videos page functions like photos, with videos displayed in a grid on with comments and reactions viewable once you click on a specific video.
“More” Options – There are additional modules, like Videos, Events, and Notes mentioned in the content types above, that are available through the “More” menu option.