The Essential Online Investigation Guide for Websites, Social Media, and Team Collaboration Tools
How to Collect and Preserve Online Evidence on Websites, Social Media Platforms, and Enterprise Social Networks
We spend an astounding amount of time online—we chat, shop, share, bank, and conduct research that leads directly to major life decisions.
Just consider the following: At the moment, there are around 3.84 billion active social media users worldwide, including:
active Facebook accounts
active Instagram accounts
active Twitter accounts
active LinkedIn accounts
active Snapchat accounts
For legal teams, all this online activity has profound implications. According to a survey conducted by Robert Half Legal in 2017, 52% of lawyers had reported an increase over the past two years in lawsuits involving posts, images, and data found on social media.
In 2018, a survey conducted by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) revealed that 90% of law firms had conducted social media discovery that year. It also showed that the number of firms handling at least 20 matters involving social media had increased by 46% year-over-year.
And then there are team collaboration tools like Slack and Workplace from Meta. As high-profile news reports have shown, enterprise collaboration conversations often play a central role in employee-related disciplinary and legal matters.
eDiscovery vendor Logikcull states, “if your discovery process ignores Slack, you’re missing half the conversation.”
With team collaboration tools increasingly replacing email as the main form of internal communication, legal teams need to consider how to collect and preserve this data for litigation.
This guide will examine the challenges that come with the eDiscovery of social media and enterprise collaboration data and also provide solutions for effective collection.
The New Challenges of Discovery
In fact, the average civil case now contains 6.5 million digital pages (130 GB of data). And unlike the physical documents of old, this data can be difficult to collect, preserve, and assess.
It’s not only the sheer volume of information; online data like social media content and enterprise collaboration conversations also pose unique challenges that need to be considered.
Unlike other forms of content, these data sources can often contain videos, images, comments, and likes. For this reason, it’s important to find a solution that captures all this content effectively.
A good 30% of social media messages contain links to third-party website content like GIFs, videos, and articles. For legal teams, being able to see this shared content in context is useful but sometimes tricky. When studying a CSV export of this data, for instance, the relevance of a link can be overlooked.
Although social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram may have much in common (like the ability to use hashtags), they are also all unique platforms with their own structures and capabilities. A common issue with the collection of content is that these platforms are constantly evolving, which can instantly make existing collection methods obsolete. For example, many legal teams relied on API tools to collect social media evidence on Facebook accounts that they did not own the credentials for, but when the company revoked API access on April 4, 2018, these tools suddenly became useless.
The beauty of social media is the speed at which it operates, but it can also make evidence collection tricky. When new posts and comments are constantly appearing, trying to understand all the content and identifying what is relevant can feel overwhelming. You could easily find that a post is edited, or new comments keep appearing, even as you’re trying to collect a piece of social media evidence.
Capturing Content Before It Is Deleted
There is no guarantee that a relevant social media post will still be available online a day, hour, or even a minute from now, which is why it is often crucial to capture and preserve online evidence as soon as it is discovered.
If it’s only a single webpage or social media post that has to be collected, this may not be a problem, but when it’s an entire website or social media account that has to be captured, doing it before important evidence disappears can be difficult.
Creating Defensible Digital Evidence
Collecting online evidence is one thing, ensuring that it complies with court rules for digital evidence and has a clear chain of custody is quite another.
For example, it might be quick and easy to grab a screenshot of a social media post as a way of collecting evidence, but proving authenticity and integrity can be difficult. Since it’s an easy process to alter a JPEG or PDF, legal teams need to consider how they will prove that content accurately reflects what was displayed online.
Efficient, Cost-Effective Evidence Collection
Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge legal teams face is finding an efficient, cost-effective way to capture online evidence, especially when one adds the factors that (i) it has to be done in a timely manner and (ii) it has to stand up to the demands of digital evidence.
Traditional methods like screenshotting can take an inordinate amount of time when legal teams deal with large websites and very active social media accounts. A social media account, like a Facebook page or an Instagram account, can be particularly frustrating, since capturing everything requires scrolling through endless timelines and expanding hundreds (if not thousands) of comments and replies.
Evidence Collection and the Social Media Environment
Evidence Collection “Where Work Happens”
The tagline for Slack is “where work happens.” And it’s not an exaggeration. Team collaboration tools like Slack, Workplace from Meta, and Microsoft Teams have fundamentally changed the way many organizations operate; internal emails have dwindled as employees increasingly communicate, collaborate, and share over these platforms. Many organizations see email use reduced by 30% or more when adopting a team collaboration tool.
In addition to cutting down on distracting emails, enterprise collaboration platforms also have other productivity benefits. For instance:
- They can help reduce task switching and save time. By combining a tool like Slack with something like Google Docs, it becomes much easier to communicate and collaborate. Instead of first having to discuss changes to a document through email and then try to apply those changes in the doc, collaboration tools allow the entire process to be seamless.
- Collaboration tools allow employees to focus while still ensuring that everyone is looped in. Channels and groups are great tools for managing projects and communicating without bothering everyone with constant emails. “Slack is business done right. When you have collaboration happening in one spot, leadership doesn’t need to be copied on an email. You can hop into a Slack channel, cruise along with the project and jump in where needed,” says Benjamin Sternsmith, Vice President of Sales for Lyft Business.
- Enterprise collaboration platforms improve company culture. When it comes to culture and employee engagement, open communication is key. Tools like Slack and Workplace from Meta can be used to connect employees, create a company-wide connection to leaders, celebrate success, and even gauge employee sentiment.
The ROI of Enterprise Collaboration Tools
How significant are the benefits that enterprise collaboration tools offer? According to many experts, the benefits are substantial—but not enough organizations have adopted these tools yet.
“The most powerful applications of social technologies in the global economy are largely untapped. By using social technologies, companies can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent,” writes McKinsey in a report titled The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies
Forrester found that Workplace from Meta could offer:
- 34% reduction in the time it takes to update frontline workers
- 20% increase in task efficiency
- 80% reduction in cloud operating expenses for legacy tools
- 20% faster decision-making
- 32% increase in product innovation
- 24% increase in onboarding efficiency
Enterprise Collaboration and Information Governance
Another important benefit of these platforms is that they can aid in improving information governance within an organization.
A great way of maintaining good information governance while also facilitating collaboration is to implement a team collaboration tool. Platforms like Workplace from Meta, Slack, and Microsoft Teams can act as a hub that connects employees, while also providing information governance teams with a central hub for shared data and communication.
“When we say that Slack is a collaboration hub, we don’t just mean people sending messages to one another, but more broadly, the work enabled across teams and the many business systems, data and applications that power productivity for our customers around the world. When all of these elements come together in Slack, that’s when we truly deliver as a collaboration hub,” writes Slack.
By plugging file management solutions, calendars, productivity apps, and web conferencing software into an enterprise collaboration hub, an organization can gather disparate remote tools and make the job of information governance professionals much easier—all while empowering its workforce in the process.
Finding Hidden Records
While enterprise collaboration tools can be great for pulling disparate records together, it’s important to keep the governance implications in mind. Like email and social media, enterprise social networks are responsible for large volumes of data within enterprises, and this data can be incredibly valuable yet complex to manage. Companies need to carefully consider the legal and data governance requirements of any enterprise collaboration tools they implement. As with email, enterprise social networks can be used for inappropriate conversations and unsanctioned data sharing.
“Legal teams are used to documents. Not chat rooms. But chat rooms are taking over,” writes Logikcull in a guide on discovery and investigations in Slack. “In one survey, nearly 20% of companies who adopted Slack saw their email use decline by 40 to 60%. Today, if you’re only dealing with emails, you’re missing half the story… With Slack, users can direct message, create chat rooms, share files, edit—or, depending on the context, spoliate—Slack messages from the past, and more.”
As enterprise social networks continue to supplant email and become the hubs that facilitate internal communication and collaboration, organizations need to implement these tools in a way that ensures they retain a tight hold on data.
To do this successfully, companies need to be able to:
- Monitor activity in enterprise collaboration tools to identify inappropriate conversations
- Put a data loss prevention (DLP) strategy in place that prevents the sharing of sensitive data
- Collect and preserve all data in real-time to facilitate compliance and litigation
- Place flagged data on legal hold to prevent disposal as part of regular retention scheduling
How to Collect Website & Social Media Evidence
How to Collect Evidence in Team Collaboration Tools
Today, just about every company understands that employee emails have to be retained for compliance and litigation, and subsequently have some sort of email vault or other archiving solution in place.
The eDiscovery Challenges of Team Collaboration Tools
A team collaboration tool like Slack, Workplace from Meta, or Microsoft Teams is similar to email as far as preservation requirements for compliance and litigation goes, but the data is more complex. Unlike emails, which are discreet and sequential, communication and collaboration in a tool like Slack or MS Teams is dynamic and real-time. Not only do employees share files and communicate constantly, but messages can also be edited and deleted, so what you see in a channel or direct conversation right now is not necessarily what appeared a day, a week, or a month ago.
Because of the dynamic nature of enterprise collaboration content, as well as the sheer amount of data that is created every single day, manual searches and screenshots are not sufficient eDiscovery solutions.
Streamlining Legal Investigations in Team Tools
The first step in managing the eDiscovery of a team collaboration tool is setting correct retention settings. Team collaboration tools allow you to set retention periods for channels and conversations — Slack, for instance, retains all messages for the lifetime of a workspace by default. You want to make sure that these settings align with the retention periods of your larger organization. You might not want to retain messages forever, but you also do not want to delete data too quickly, leaving the legal team unable to retrieve these records.
The next step to facilitating legal investigations within a team collaboration tool is leveraging the eDiscovery integrations that these platforms offer. Why not simply make use of the retained data within the platform itself? The main reason is that this can be difficult (if not impossible) to export content in a format that is defensible and easy to submit during a legal matter.
Far better is an eDiscovery solution that is designed to plug into a collaboration platform to make content easy to search and export. It has to be added that not all eDiscovery products are created equal, but the best solutions will create a database of saved records that retains the native look and feel of the collaboration platform, as well as the context and relationships of data and users.
The video below illustrates how Pagefreezer’s Legal Edition for Enterprise Collaboration facilitates legal investigations and early case assessments.
- Add users and groups to the Pagefreezer dashboard and then instantly view a live replay of all content
- Use advanced search to deliver relevant content across all archives, accounts, direct conversations, timelines, and groups
- Instantly select relevant content, add comments, and export files to local servers for eDiscovery purposes
- Export data to file formats such as PDF and WARC. Records are time-stamped and signed with a SHA-256 digital signature. All associated metadata is included in the export
- Place users and data on legal hold to prevent the deletion of crucial evidence
Modern online data sources introduce new challenges to online investigations, but they also provide opportunities. The fact of the matter is, no legal or investigative team can afford to ignore these channels and platforms. Evidence exists there, waiting to be discovered.
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