Social Evidence

How to Find Someone on Facebook…and other relevant information

POSTED ON November 8, 2017

By Andy Adkins, CIO of Social Evidence and Mark Rosch & Carole Levitt, Founders of Internet for Lawyers – Facebook is no doubt the most popular social media networking site, hands down. In June 2017[1], Facebook reported hitting more than two (2) billion monthly active users (MAUs). They also reported 1.32 billion daily active users (DAUs) on average. It is also reported that 75% of people with Facebook profiles use Facebook every day[2].

A few more interesting Facebook facts[3]: the average time spent on a Facebook visit is about 20 minutes. Every 60 seconds, 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. One more thing: there are about 81 million fake Facebook accounts[4].

With all the popularity of Facebook, privacy still boils down to the individual; users can configure their Privacy Settings so that even if your investigation target does have a profile, it may not turn up in search results. One useful fact for investigative researchers is that most Facebook users create their profiles using their real names. Another is that the information in their profiles might not be as “private” as they think, depending on the restrictions the user sets in their Privacy Settings. For more detailed information, see the Facebook Privacy Settings section later in this article.

An important date to remember: May 2014. That’s when Facebook changed its default settings from Public to Friends; that is, for new accounts (after May 2014). Current users (before May 2014) would have to proactively change their own Facebook settings – not everyone did.

Search Facebook by Name, E-mail, or Phone Number

Conducting a simple name search, using the search box at the top of the Facebook screen will often turn up the profile of your target. This search box only appears if you are logged into a Facebook account of your own. It is no longer possible to search for users by name without being logged into your own account. Unfortunately, relatively little documentation exists that explains the power of this search box. Most people think that they can only search by name. You can also use the search box to enter the e-mail address or phone number of your target. There are also a number of other options available to search for a person’s account or to minimally verify that an account exists.

These searches can be very useful for finding your target, since e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers are unique identifiers (while names often are not). Keep in mind, though, that Facebook users can use Privacy Settings to limit how their profiles can be searched. If your target has selected Friends or Friends of Friends for his or her Who can look you up using the e-mail address you provided? setting or Who can look you up using the phone number you provided? setting, and you are neither, your searches by e-mail address or phone number will not return any results. They will only work if your target has set the e-mail or phone look-up privacy settings to Everyone. It should be noted that even though Facebook explicitly asks for a mobile phone number, it is possible to use a landline phone when creating a Facebook account.

After you typed in your search, in the example below, “john doe,” Facebook Search displays two types of filters: the horizontal filter allows you to select what type of Facebook data to display (e.g., All, People, Posts), while the vertical filter allows you to Filter by Post, by Group, by Tagged Location, or by Date Posted.#1

 #2Search Facebook by Keyword

You can use Facebook’s search box to conduct keyword searches through publicly visible posts, but the results are hit or miss. Although Facebook appears to default to adding the AND Boolean connector between each keyword, in some of our test searches, retrieved results failed to contain all of our keywords. The search box does not appear to allow phrase searches (when multiple keywords are enclosed in quotation marks).

More Targeted Facebook Searching

Introduced in 2013, Facebook’s Graph Search allows you to use the search box to create very targeted conceptual searches using natural language for information users posted to their timelines. It was originally meant for searches like Friends who like to ski, Restaurants liked by my Friends, or Photos of [Friend’s Name].

Call Out 1

When searching Facebook for targeted accounts, you need to be logged into Facebook in order to use the Graph Search Tool, which will allow you to potentially find more information than if you are not logged in. When you begin typing in a phrase or a friend’s name, Facebook displays prompts and suggestions that are automatically generated. These are personalized to you (based on your previous Facebook activities and searches). In other words, if you and your secretary each type in the same natural language search into your respective computers, s/he may see results different from yours.

No matter what you read or hear about this search capacity, rest assured there are always more types of conceptual searches available. In other words, experiment and just start typing in a natural language query, no matter how detailed or how absurd it may sound. You may actually be surprised.

Facebook Privacy Settings

Every Facebook user has the ability to edit their own Privacy Settings, accessible through Settings / Privacy. The following is a quick rundown of Facebook’s Privacy Settings:

Who can see my stuff?

  • Who can see your future posts?
    • Public – anyone on or off Facebook
    • Friends – your friends on Facebook
    • Friends except – Don’t show to some friends
    • Specific friends
    • Only me
    • Custom
      • Cities you’ve lived in (and listed on Facebook)
      • Family
      • People with similar “status” (i.e., Retired)
      • Companies you’ve worked for (and listed on Facebook)
    • Who can see your friends list?
      • Public
      • Friends
      • Only me
      • Custom
        • Cities you’ve lived in (and listed on Facebook)
        • Family
        • People with similar “status” (i.e., Retired)
        • Companies you’ve worked for (and listed on Facebook)
      • Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared (i.e., Past Posts) with friends of friends or Public? (Y/N)

Who can contact me?

  • Who can send you friend requests?
    • Everyone
    • Friends of friends

Who can look me up?

  • Who can look you up using the e-mail address you provided?
    • Everyone
    • Friends of friends
    • Friends
  • Who can look you up using the phone number you provided?
    • Everyone
    • Friends of friends
    • Friends

Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile? (Y/N)

Facebook Graph Search Natural Language Queries…a Start

Here’s a starting list with examples of natural language queries for the Facebook Graph Search, based on the “type” of search.[5]Call Out 2 enlarged

  1. Find friends, groups, pages
    • Friends who live in Atlanta
    • Friends of John Doe who live in Atlanta
    • Friends who like Disney World in Orlando
  1. Find interests, likes, photosPhotos of my friends
    • Photos of John Doe
    • Photos of John Doe’s friends
    • Photos liked by John Doe
    • Photos of John Doe liked by Jane Doe
    • Photos of John Doe AND Jane Doe
    • Recent photos taken by John Doe’s friends in Miami
  1. Find hotels & restaurants
    • Restaurants in Denver liked by my friends
    • Hotels nearby liked by my friends
    • Bars visited by John Doe
  1. Search for Facebook videos
    • Facebook videos liked by John Doe
    • Facebook videos posted in Atlanta
  1. Find phone numbers
    • Type in the phone number to see results
  1. Find people
    • People who work at Disney World in Orlando
    • People who are male and live in Atlanta and work at Delta Airlines
    • People who are accountants
    • People who are named Doe and live in Atlanta

After you enter one of these natural language queries, make sure you select the Category, such as All or People or Places. Otherwise, your search may come up empty. If there are a lot of search results, you can narrow your search by selecting one or more filters located on the left side of the screen.

You can also combine these natural language phrases together and add things like location, dates, times, interests which may provide a more targeted result. Note that the returned results are also dependent on the target account’s Privacy Settings. If the target account is locked down, you may not find anything of value.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Facebook Graph Search is extremely powerful and may often return false positives. You have to dig a little deeper into the actual Post or Photo in order to determine if this really the target Facebook account.

Searching Facebook Live Video Call Out 3

In April 2016, Facebook introduced the Facebook Live video streaming capability that allows users to broadcast a live video to their Friends/Followers via Facebook mobile apps. The limit is 45 minutes and 1.75 GB of data. Unfortunately, you cannot create a Graph Search for past Facebook Live video streams.

If you are able to locate your target’s Facebook Profile, you can browse through all of their posts and you might be able to view the old/completed Facebook Live videos they have produced depending on the target’s overall Privacy Settings. Click on any that you can see to play the video and view the comments that viewers made during the live video. (Note that individual videos can carry different levels of sharing, e.g., Public, Friends, Friends Except, Specific Friends.)


Alternative Method for Determining if a Facebook Account Exists

There is something of a work-around that allows you to determine whether someone has created a Facebook profile – or at least if there is a profile associated with (one of) their known e-mail addresses or phone numbers if they have hidden these from search. To do this, we exploit a feature of Facebook’s own login page and its user verification process. First, you need to be logged out of your own Facebook account.

Once you are logged out, enter the known e-mail address or phone number of your target into the E-mail or Phone login box on the login page. (Note: Phone numbers are a login option because Facebook users are prompted for a phone number as part of the registration process.) You are not trying to gain access to, or hack into, the account (if one exists), so you will leave the Password box blank. Then click the Log in button. By doing so, we’re turning the login page into a de facto search page. If there is no Facebook profile associated with the e-mail address or phone number you entered, you will receive this message, “The e-mail [or phone number] you’ve entered doesn’t match any account. Sign up for an account.”

However, if there is a Facebook profile associated with the e-mail address, you will receive a different message. It will read, “The password you’ve entered is incorrect. Forgot Password?” The message will also include the name and primary photo associated with the account, so if you know what the target looks like, you will be able to verify that they probably have a Facebook profile. Then, through Discovery, you can request their profile content with confidence. This is also helpful in challenging individuals who claim not to have a profile. Oddly, if there is a Facebook profile associated with the phone number you’ve searched, you will get yet a different result. While the message will still read, “The password you’ve entered is incorrect. Forgot Password?”, it will not include the name or primary profile photo associated with the account.

One caveat about this method however, is that Facebook has recently begun sending the owner of a profile you’ve searched this way an e-mail with the subject line “[Profile Owner’s First Name], get back on Facebook with one click” and the message “It looks like you’re having trouble logging into Facebook. Just click the button below and we’ll log you in. If you weren’t trying to log in, let us know.”

How do you know you have the Right Person on Facebook?

How can you tell if you have found the right Facebook target account? After all, there is more than one Facebook user named John Doe. First, you’ll get more results if you are logged into Facebook using your own Facebook account.

Here’s where you need to do a little legwork and you need to know a few things about Facebook. Following the information provided in this article, start your research with the three identifiers: Name, mobile number, and e-mail: you can enter these search criteria one at a time or all at the same time. The more information you have, the higher probability of finding the right person.

As you search and review the results, remember that while most people use their real names on Facebook, their Profile image may not be the best image to identify them. Many have their Profile image of kids or grandkids or of a life event. In other words, don’t rely solely on the search result image.

If you don’t have any of the unique identifiers (e-mail or mobile phone number), then the next “tier” search should contain location or experience information, such as where they may have worked. In our Facebook search experience, most people on Facebook enter information about themselves and their family in their Profile. If their Privacy Settings are not strict, then that data may be searchable and found.

If you are curious as to the type of data available, check your own Facebook account: look at your Profile (“About”), your Friends, Your Posts (“Timeline”) and the “More” link.

Your Profile (“About You”) information contains the following data (if you’ve entered all this information):

  • Biograph Info
    • John Doe is a hard working engineer with the City of Atlanta
  • Work and Education
    • John Doe works at City of Atlanta
    • John Doe graduated from Georgia Tech
    • John Doe attended Decatur High School
  • Places You’ve Lived
    • John Doe currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia
    • John Doe’s hometown is Decatur, Georgia
    • John Doe lived in Decatur, Georgia
  • Family and Relationships
    • John Doe is married to Jane Smith Doe
    • Jennifer Doe is John Doe’s daughter
  • Life Events
    • John Doe started working at City of Atlanta in July 2004
    • John Doe graduated from Georgia Tech in May 2004

Your Friends information contains the following data:

  • All Friends
  • Recently Added Friends
  • New Posts (from your Friends)
  • Birthdays (of your Friends who list that information)
  • College (Friends who went to the same college(s) as you)
  • High School (Friends who went to the same high school(s) as you)
  • Current City (Friends who live in your Current City)
  • Hometown (Friends who live in your Hometown)
  • Following (Friends you are Following)

In addition, More information is available from:

  • Videos (Your Videos)
  • Check-Ins (Places, Cities, Recent)
  • Sports (Teams, Athletes)
  • Music (Likes, Listen Later)
  • Movies (Likes, Watched, Want to Watch)
  • TV Shows (Likes, Watched, Want to Watch)
  • Books (Likes, Read, Want to Read)
  • Likes (Movies, TV Shows, Music, Books, Sports Teams, Athletes, People, Restaurants, Apps and Games)
    • Movies liked by John Doe
  • Events (Past)
  • Reviews
  • Groups (Public)
    • Groups that John Doe belong
  • Instagram (Recent Photos)
    • Instagram photos posted by John Doe
    • Instagram photos liked by John Doe

Additional Facebook Search Tips

  • “Like” locations that you think your target may frequent, especially those locations that upload pictures from different events. You may see an image of someone you are looking for. And, there may be a chance that someone “tagged” them (with their Facebook name) or commented on the image – an added plus.
  • Family members may also be a key to finding someone. If you know the target is married, has kids, or grandkids, perhaps you can use the Graph Search Tool to search for them, then look through their Facebook accounts to see if there’s a link relationship to your target.
  • Ditto for friends; if you know the target’s friends’ names, they try searching for those and look through their Facebook accounts to find information about your target.
  • Whatever you do while searching target Facebook accounts, do NOT ever “like” an image or a post. You are using your own Facebook account and that little “uh-oh” moment may come back to haunt you.

Facebook’s Timeline Search Tool

Imagine if you will…. In a galaxy far, far away….  Somewhere you remember seeing a Post on your Facebook Timeline…. And, you think you remember the Year…. But, you don’t want to take the time to scroll down through all those years looking for that one particular Post.

Now, imagine this…. if you could go directly to the Year and, if you remember, the Month of that Facebook Post, you wouldn’t have to scroll through all those years of Posts. Believe it or not, Facebook has the ability to take you directly to the Year and the Month on your Timeline.

How do you get there? Simply login and go to your Facebook account and to your own Timeline (that’s NOT the Facebook “Home” button, it’s the “Name” button as shown below.


#4Scroll down a little to get past your Profile & Cover photos and you’ll see the Timeline Search Toolbar magically appear. Two dropdowns: one gives you the ability to select your Timeline or your About page; the second provides you with the ability to select the Year.

Once you select the Year, Facebook scrolls directly to the last post of that year; note also that another drop down selection appears: All Posts, Activity Log, or the Month. Now, just scroll down until you find that particular Post.










And, if you’re looking through your client’s Facebook Timeline (with their permission and credentials, of course) for relevant information regarding their legal matter, you don’t have to look through all their “stuff.” Just select the Year and the Month, and scroll through that narrower memory lane. It’s really that simple.

What if you’re looking for specific information about a potential witness or juror, whom you are NOT friends with on Facebook? Does this apply to them, too? In a word, “YES,” but only if their Privacy Settings are public.


We hear it time and time again: “I can’t find out if this person has a social media account. There’s no information available to search.” But, is that really the case, or do you have bits and pieces of information scattered throughout the case/matter file?

Most of the time, you have a name; whether it’s a real name or not may not necessarily be a barrier. Sometimes, you have location or a phone number or an e-mail or a family member or any number of additional pieces of information. Independently, they may not be worth that much, but together, you may have the information you need to start finding the right person on Facebook.

In most cases, social media sites require three pieces of information in order to create an account: a Name, an e-mail address, and a mobile phone number. Not everyone uses their real names on social media, especially if they want to remain anonymous. To further complicate matters, Facebook may have many people with the same name, such as John Doe.

E-mails and mobile phone numbers are like “digital social security numbers” on the Internet and social media networks tend to side with privacy – in other words, the default is to opt out of sharing this information; the user must “select” their privacy setting in order to allow others to see this information. However, if you use the “alternative method for determining if a Facebook account exists” (described earlier), it won’t matter if your target has his/her “search” privacy settings to not show e-mail or phone number, because Facebook will still allow you to search by those criteria.

Facebook is currently the most widely used social network on the planet and also has the most data and functionality. That said, Facebook also provides the most extensive set of search tools, much of which is not documented or obvious.

Using the tools you already know, plus the multitude of tidbits presented in this article, you should be able to search and find the right person on Facebook. Persistence is the key because Facebook is always evolving and changing both the information they keep as well as how to search for it.

About Social Evidence

Social Evidence® is a cloud-based application developed for the legal profession. It is designed to quickly and accurately discover, organize, authenticate, and analyze information from specific social media sites for named accounts and provide relevant information to courts in a repeatable, admissible, and legally-defensible format.

The primary purpose is to assist legal professionals with a more efficient method of collecting and evaluating social media information as part of a litigation matter. The analysis and advanced analytical tools assist the attorney to organize the data with searching and filtering functions to more easily pinpoint relevant information specific to the matter.

Social Evidence is built on the Microsoft Azure platform, providing a scalable, high performance solution that works for the solo practitioner equally as well as the large firm attorneys and their staff. The analytical tools provided with MS Azure as well as a unique licensing arrangement with the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) allows the attorney to take advantage of concept mapping, natural language processing, and machine intelligence. Using advanced, state-of-the-art Visual Analytics, Social Evidence provides legal professionals with a stunning representation of social media data in a variety of views.

Andy Adkins is the Chief Information Officer of Social Evidence and has spent the majority of his professional career as a legal technology consultant, IT Director, and CIO for a large law firm.

About Internet for Lawyers

Since 1999, Internet For Lawyers has provided law firms, corporations, and local and state Bar Associations around the country with professional and entertaining turn-key CLE programs. The company focuses on delivering information about free investigative and background research resources available on the Internet. Since 2015, its division has provided law schools, and local and state Bar Associations around the country with professional and entertaining turn-key distance CLE programs.

Our live continuing legal education programs focus on teaching legal professionals how to use the Internet and technology to practice law and research more efficiently and cost effectively. For these courses, we have also developed comprehensive custom-written materials.

Prior to founding Internet For Lawyers, company President Carole Levitt has more than 20 years of extensive and diversified experience in the legal field as an attorney, Internet trainer, law librarian, and as a law school faculty member. Since starting the company, she has presented hundreds of seminars teaching legal professionals the advantages of conducting investigative, legal, and business research via the Internet.

Internet For Lawyers clients also have the benefit of Vice President Mark Rosch’s 20 years of traditional marketing experience. Prior to co-founding Internet For Lawyers, he was head of a major cable television network Public Relations department. In addition to co-presenting with Levitt, he manages Internet For Lawyers’ web site.

Levitt and Rosch have been internationally recognized CLE seminar speakers – full-time since 1999 and best-selling ABA Law Practice Division authors. Their areas of expertise are: Internet investigative, legal, and social media research; social media ethics; Google search; and Google cloud Apps.

Together, Mark and Carole have authored hundreds of Internet research articles and co-authored six ABA Law Practice Division books, including Google Gmail and Calendar in One Hour for Lawyers (2013); Find Info like a Pro, Volumes 1 and 2 and Google for Lawyers: Essential Search Tips and Productivity Tools (2010). They have also co-authored fourteen editions of IFL Press’s The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet. Carole recently authored Internet Legal Research on a Budget.

In 2013, they were both recipients of the “Fastcase Fifty” award, recognizing “50 of the smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries, and leaders in the law” and in 2014, they both became Fellows in the College of Law Practice Management, the international honor society that recognizes distinguished law practice management professionals.



[1] Facebook Newsroom:

[2] Zephoria Digital Marketing; July 6, 2017.


[4] Zephoria Digital Marketing; July 6, 2017.




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