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Social Discovery: An Interview With Howard Williamson

This week’s blog is something new for X1 – a Q & A with Howard Williamson, the General Manager for X1’s market leading Social Discovery product.  Howard is an experienced digital forensics expert and began his career in law enforcement, which gives him a unique perspective on the practice of social discovery.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Howard this week on what is a very hot topic – social discovery.

Why Social Discovery?

Howard:  I remember back in the mid-1990’s there was a real feeling of excitement around digital forensics.  It was the cutting edge of the forensics field and the work was really fun.  Social media is now what digital forensics was in the mid to late 1990s – it’s the cutting edge of where investigation and intelligence is right now.  The work is fun because there are lots of challenges; the fun part is taking the practice from good to great.  That is what attracted me to the opportunity at X1 – because X1 Social Discovery can make the practice great because the product addresses the challenges of defensibly collecting a high volume, diverse data set like social media.

How does the law enforcement background complement this role?

Howard:  Ultimately, the goal of social discovery is to collect data in a manner that allows it to be used in criminal or civil litigation.  Knowing how that process works is critical.  The law enforcement background gives that experience of defensible collection across many different types of digital evidence.  And, on the criminal side of things, the standards of defensibility are quite high, so carrying that over to the civil side means that X1 will always meet high authenticity standards.  I bring that high bar from the digital forensics world to this brave new world of social media.

What’s new about this practice?
Howard:  The nice thing about now versus the mid-1990s is that we are now using purpose-built tools like X1 Social Discovery rather than co-opting system administration and network tools like we did in the early days of computer forensics.  That makes the Modern evidenceprocess more efficient and more complete.
Rather than using a sledgehammer to put a nail in, we are using a hammer.  The tool is built specifically for social discovery and therefore makes the practice more efficient.  Whereas in the early days of digital forensics, collection procedures where often made up on the fly, with Social Discovery, the approach is much more structured and systematic.  At X1, with our experience, we are certainly able to think and react on the fly to new challenges, but with a purpose-built tool, we can do so much more efficiently.  And, in the eDiscovery world, efficiency and defensibility are two very important things.

Are you seeing social discovery specialists pop up? 

Howard:  What we are seeing is that digital forensics professionals and intelligence professionals are implementing social discovery into their processes and procedures.  There are not “specialists” in social media; rather, the social discovery tool allows more people to collect this type of data as part of a broader job.  They are also doing things like mobile forensics and other digital forensics.  Thus, X1 Social Discovery has become an important tool in their toolkit.  The tool actually makes it easier to bring social media content into the collection because the professional doesn’t have to dive deep into things like mobile operating systems.  It becomes easier to be an expert in social collection because the product makes it simple to collect and analyze.

Do you think that Social discovery is a mainstream practice now?

Howard:  It absolutely is.  The evidence of that is our business.  X1 has nearly 500 paid install sites and nearly 4,000 end users conducting social discovery.  These users got ahead of the curve and have social media integrated into their processes.  The growth opportunity is still huge because it is inevitable that case law will force everyone to take social media more seriously, in the way that the Enron case put a spotlight on electronic discovery in general.  Law enforcement got the importance of social media evidence early on.  Even though a more typically cautious industry, police departments see that social media is a critical form of evidence and have built it into collection processes.  This is how most areas of forensics have evolved.   There is an attitude that, if it’s good enough for criminal law, it’s good enough for civil court.  That is part of what’s exciting for X1 – we have a great base of law enforcement customers putting the product through the paces.  X1 Social Discovery is truly battle-tested and no other solution works quite as well.  We are nicely positioned as the social discovery leader in a mainstream market with high growth potential.

What should we look for in the next year of social discovery?

Howard:  I would expect to see the big social networks continue to gain traction.  I don’t foresee a new behemoth social network to challenge the popularity of Facebook and Twitter.  From an app perspective, self-destructing messaging looks to remain popular as privacy becomes more of a concern.  Forensics will play a large role in determining whether those messages are truly destroyed or actually discoverable.

X1 will continue to build out connectors to more and more social networks and improve reporting and deliverables.  There will be more ability to analyze the data within the investigation platform.   What X1 wants to enable is people to do their jobs within a given workflow.  Some users will want to collect and review social media directly within X1, and the tools enables them to do that.  Others have examiners collect the data, but then move to a review tool where litigators can look at it.

Big thanks to Howard Williamson for sharing his time with us.  If you have questions about social discovery, please contact us at info@x1.com for more information.

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Catch Howard’s lecture at HTCIA’s Annual Conference, Tuesday, August 26, where he will cover Social Media Collection and Review >

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mid-Year Report: Legal Cases Involving Social Media Rapidly Increasing

As part of our ongoing effort to monitor legal developments concerning social media evidence, we again searched online legal databases of state and federal court decisions across the United States — this time to identify the number of cases in the first half of 2012 where evidence from social networking sites played a significant role. The results are available here in a detailed spreadsheet listing each case, allowing for anyone to review the cases and conduct their own analysis. The cases are accessible for free on Google Scholar.  The overall tally come in at 319 cases for this 6 month period, which is about an 85 percent increase in the number of published social media cases over the same period in 2011, as reported by our prior survey earlier this year.

As with the last survey, we reviewed all the search results and added annotations for the more notable cases, and were sure to eliminate duplicates and to not count de minimis entries — defined as cases with merely cursory or passing mentions of social media sites.  As only a very small number of cases–approximately one percent of all filed cases– involve a published decision that we can access online, it is safe to assume that several thousand, if not tens of thousands more cases involved social media evidence during this time period. Additionally, many of these published decisions involve fact patterns from as far back as 2008, as they are now just working their way through the appeals process. Finally, these cases do not reflect the presumably many thousands of more instances where social media evidence was relevant to an internal investigation or compliance audit, yet did not evolve into actual litigation. Even so, this limited survey is an important data point establishing the ubiquitous nature of social media evidence, its escalating importance and the necessity of best practices technology to search and collect this data for litigation and compliance requirements.

The search, limited to the top four social networking sites, tallied as follows: Facebook is now far in the lead with 197 cases, MySpace tallied in at 89, mostly with fact patterns circa 2009, Twitter with 25 and LinkedIn with 8. Criminal matters marked the most common category of cases involving social media evidence, followed by employment related litigation, insurance claims/personal injury, family law and general business litigation (trademark infringement/libel/unfair competition). One interesting and increasingly common theme involved social media usage being considered as a factor in establishing minimum contacts for jurisdictional purposes. (See Juniper Networks, Inc. v. JUNIPER MEDIA, LLC, and Lyons v. RIENZI & SONS, INC, as examples)

We plan on providing a complete summary for all of the 2012 cases in early January and it safe to assume that the second half of 2012 will continue to see a sharp increase in the presence of social media evidence.

> View all 2012 cases and more now

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Surging Wage and Hour Class Action Suits and the Importance of Social Media Evidence

Wage and hour class action suits are rising dramatically. According to the USA Today, Plaintiffs filed 7,006 federal court wage-and-hour suits in 2011, many of them class actions, nearly quadruple the 2000 total. Many of these suits involve claims of misclassifying employees as exempt from overtime, especially salespersons and temporary professional employees. Additionally, these claims involve allegations of non-exempt employees being required to work off hours through the use of mobile devices, webmail and social media.  As such, social media evidence is playing an important role in the litigation of wage and hour claims on multiple levels.

As one recent example, a federal court in the Northern District of California earlier this month imposed monetary sanctions of nearly $16,000 and disqualified the lead plaintiff as the class representative in a wage and hour class action for failing to disclose relevant Facebook evidence. In Calvert v. Red Robin International, the lead plaintiff proved to be very active on Facebook, using the site to communicate with other claimants and to recruit potential plaintiffs into the class. The plaintiff and his lawyers failed to disclose this evidence, which the defendant’s law firm ultimately obtained through their own diligent investigation efforts. Such disqualifications and monetary sanctions against the lead plaintiff can prove to be important tactical victories in cases such as these.

Calvert is just one of many recent wage and hour cases that we have seen where social media has played a critical role. For instance, our customers have recently reported successfully using X1 Social Discovery in wage and hour claims, including, for example, to collect Linkedin and Facebook evidence that contradicted Plaintiffs claims that they were non-exempt employees. In addition to this customer use example and the case of Calvert v. Red Robin International, there are numerous other scenarios where the search and collection of social media evidence can be essential to the litigation of wage and hour cases, highlighting the importance of best practices technology to diligently represent your clients’ interests.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law