Facebook, MySpace, Linked In and even Yahoo! Groups are part of the booming social networking sites on the Internet that are a hot source of untapped background material. You probably check public records and personal information databases for background screening on a pre employment matter. Surveillance is a standard investigative tool on domestic and insurance claim cases. You may even do a cursory Google search on a company or business executive name. But here are two questions that should be answered in the affirmative –if you want to impress your client and give her more of the available information on your subject– but will likely respond with a unanimous “no”. Do you look behind the major search engines –to the invisible Internet– to gather background on your target? And, are you promoting Internet research, as a specific category of services, to your clients? Your clients are primed for you to offer this service to them because they already know it’s a rich trove of personal information!
I find that law clerks are often the ones who are doing the Googling but they and the attorneys are doing cursory searches, not just for factual material but also legal research.
The New York Times carried a piece, When a Risque Online Persona Undermines a Chance for a Job, on businesses delving into potential employees’ unacknowleged resumes, found in personal profiles on the social networking Web sites. Two popular ones for high school and college students are Facebook and MySpace.
Many companies that recruit on college campuses have been using search engines like Google and Yahoo to conduct background checks on seniors looking for their first job. But now, college career counselors and other experts say, some recruiters are looking up applicants on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga and Friendster, where college students often post risqué or teasing photographs and provocative comments about drinking, recreational drug use and sexual exploits in what some mistakenly believe is relative privacy.
The California public defender blogger, nom de guerre, Sanchovilla, has contributed a small demonstration of how keywords in blog search engines can return results linking to social networking sites that expose dirt on the target of your search.
But, just to dash some professional experience water on this relatively direct (but often time consuming) search, entering search terms within a search engine will not return all available hits. That’s where going behind the visible Web, searching within sites, via directories or in an archive of historical Web pages will get you fuller results.
A bit excessive for your average investigation, but the computer savvy can create databases of Internet posted personal information to track keywords, such as a personal name in Amazon Wishlists.