Want to Be a Web Sleuth? Here’s How to Get Started

The moment we get an extra bit of time on our hands, some unique hobbies might start to form.  For some, it might be crafting, puzzles or writing poetry – but for others, something a little bit more exciting is needed to scratch that itch.  Perhaps you’ve found yourself listening to true crime podcasts, or keeping up with some wild documentaries and diving down investigative internet rabbit holes after you’re done with each episode.

You’re not alone in this: in fact, there are dozens – if not hundreds – of groups on the internet (mostly congregating on Reddit) dedicated to solving mysteries and crimes.  These communities of online detectives often refer to themselves as web (or cyber) sleuths.

Let’s dive into what being a web sleuth means today, how web sleuthing came about and how you might use today’s technologies to become one yourself.

What is Web Sleuthing?

YourDictionary.com provides two options for definitions of a cybersleuth, including:

(1) A person who searches the Internet for information about a company, both positive and negative, to keep abreast of public opinion.  All Internet facilities are used, including the Web, newsgroups and chat rooms.”

and

(2) A person who does any kind of detective work using the Internet.”

Let’s break it down: web sleuths rely on the power of the internet – coupled with their own prowess and dedication to mystery-solving – to dig deep into unsolved trenches and find information that might help uncover answers to meaningful questions.  When it comes to true crime, those meaningful questions become especially spooky and turn into details about unsolved disappearances, and even murders.

How Did Web Sleuthing Start?

One of the first known web sleuths, according to an article on Oxygen, was a man named Todd Matthews who did most of his self-directed investigative work in the 1980s, and ultimately successfully solved a missing woman’s case in late 1990.  Back in the 80s, when Matthews first got his start as a citizen sleuth, he had to conduct investigations without the help of the internet.  He would spend hours on end scouring library resources and databases, making phone calls and numerous site visits, which took an incredible amount of time over the years.

Eventually, Matthews cracked the code with the help of the internet and a blossoming online community.  Matthews created a website dedicated to the woman’s case, conducted research on his computer and eventually located an online classifieds site, where he found a suspect match.  From there, he was able to bring the missing woman’s family closure – and earned himself the title of one of the original trailblazing web sleuth pioneers.

Matthews’ success was acknowledged by many, and professional law enforcement particularly noted the importance of his feat, as “in a time when the internet was not commonly used by the masses, [Matthews] recognized his obsession, and focused that energy in a positive direction.”

How to Become a Web Sleuth

Today, modern web sleuths can use the help of many advanced internet databases to help the crack unsolved cases and get to the bottom of long-lost mysteries.  When considering all of the internet tools you might use, there are a few good-to-know practices and skills to make sure you have a handle on. In an article written for Time Magazine, true crime author Deborah Halber recommends taking the following five steps when using the internet to solve the trickiest of crimes:

  1. Search every digital corner.  Focusing on a mystery’s location by taking a geographic approach helps set the cadence for checking sources for local reports and potential witnesses.
  2. Upgrade to Paid Search Tools.  Services like Google News are a great start, but investing in digital sleuthing services like Spokeo helps you get access to tens of thousands of public records and industry-leading data sources.  Spokeo offers insightful tools like reverse address lookup, which helps you find out who lives (or used to live) at a property address that might be imperative to solving a case.
  3. Develop thick skin.  Though well-intentioned, web sleuths can sometimes get a bad rap for their involvement.  Consider creating a username that will protect your identity should things go awry.
  4. Leave squeamishness at the door. It’s no secret that when solving true crime, there will be images of the true crime that will be distressing.  Make sure that you’re prepared to see some graphic visuals when diving down particularly mysterious – and horrific – crimes.
  5. Visualise it.  Finally, Halber recommends stepping away from simply considering photographs, and instead of thinking about how images translate to an actual person in question.  Making notes of distinctive features like tattoos or scars will help web sleuths bridge the gap between the internet and the physical mystery itself.

How Spokeo Can Help

Once you’re prepared to embrace your knack for solving mysteries, consider using Spokeo to help you make sure that you leave no digital stone unturned.  Spokeo offers a variety of services and features that organize billions of records to paint the picture of the story behind a name, address or property in question.  You can also use Spokeo to gather insights on potential culprits: the platform gives web sleuths plenty of data about criminal records (for an additional fee), crime rates in neighborhoods and safety statistics.  Even the smallest digital detail can lead you to solve a decades-long mystery.

Ready to dive in?  Check out the top 5 resources for websleuths!

References: