Client’s Challenge: An Aggressive Online Smear Campaign

Market pressures were affecting one private university’s ability to contain tuition increases, and rising administrative expenses were forcing it to make extremely challenging staffing decisions. Local and online news outlets extensively reported on the university’s difficult decisions, generating waves of negative PR. “We understood that our attempts to adapt to this challenging market – to tread water as costs explode – would be difficult for some of our stakeholders,” the university’s president said. “But it’s reached disturbing new levels on Twitter. One anonymous user in particular has been relentless – calling for riots on campus, urging our students to transfer, spreading misinformation about our administrative operations. We need to know who this individual is, how far their influence reaches and if this is something that needs immediate intervention by our legal department or law enforcement authorities.”

The Hillard Heintze Solution: Social Media Monitoring

The Hillard Heintze Threat and Violence Risk Management practice initiated comprehensive investigative social media research and analysis of the user to (1) determine the true identity of the anonymous individual and (2) identify key influencers in the user’s network. In order to collect information about their current life situation – and any indicators that could suggest they posed a threat to the president or university – the engagement included a review of the user’s public social media profiles and those of the individual’s associates, as well as a compilation of their address history and professional background.

Impact on the Client: A Clearer View of a Murky Online Figure

Hillard Heintze determined that even though the user’s Twitter account had several hundred followers, the individual’s antagonistic commentary against the university had relatively minimal influence. The team determined – with a high degree of certainty – the identity of the anonymous user, including his name, geographical location, address and professional history. It also discovered several other social media accounts associated with the individual on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. At that point, the client asked Hillard Heintze to undertake further research to
determine whether the subject had a criminal history or record of civil litigation.

Unplugged: The Project Manager’s Post-Engagement Perspective

“Persistent social media attacks – particularly those carried out by anonymous individuals or groups – can have an incredibly damaging effect on an organization. This is especially true when the attacks are amplified to a large, sympathetic and potentially motivated audience.
“Social media monitoring, executed carefully by experienced threat assessors and investigators, can help pull anonymous aggressors out of the shadows and allow an organization to better assess the situation – and decide on the appropriate course of action.”

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