Digital Threat Assessment Toolkit
Digital Evidence

7.1 Accounts 101

Members of the threat assessment team likely personally use the same websites and social media platforms as the individuals they are searching. Using personal accounts to do a quick search for work purposes can be very tempting and convenient; however, this is strongly discouraged. It puts personal privacy at risk and is not a best practice.

No Personal Accounts

Instead, search social media without accessing an account (e.g., Instagram) or if an account is required (e.g., Facebook), use a professional dead/empty account.

A professional dead or empty account is an account that is created as a “key-to-the-door account” that allows you to search for public content only. Ideally this account is set up with all threat assessment team members, and the login credentials are shared with each other. Dead/empty means that it is a completely empty account – no profile picture, no photos or content posted. However, social media sites are constantly changing and updating their practices. It may be necessary to have a professional account that has some activity in it to prevent the social media platform from shutting down that account, as platforms are working to eliminate fake accounts and bots.

Tip: If possible, search without being logged in to an account. Once you are logged in, you could accidentally click “like” or “add friend.”

Internet browsers and websites are very adept at keeping you signed into your account. Always look to the top right-hand corner of Google, Instagram, and other sites to confirm that you aren’t logged in before conducting any searches.


Consider the examples below using the Texas School Safety Center Google account.

Texas School Safety Center Google account.

In the image below, the “star” icon in the top right-hand corner indicates that The Texas School Safety Center is logged in.

logged in star icon

The “Sign In” button indicates that no one is logged in:

not logged in button


On Instagram, the upper right corner also indicates whether you are logged in. The image below shows the Texas School Safety Center logged in.

logged in icon

In the image below, the “Log In” button and “Sign Up” link indicate that the Texas School Safety Center is not logged in.

not logged in

Instagram will look slightly different on a mobile device, but the key is to look for your profile picture or icon in the upper right corner to confirm that you are not logged in.

Using Private Browsing Mode

Sometimes, it is not feasible to search from two separate devices or computers. In that case, conducting any work-related searches in a Private Browsing Mode is recommended. This allows you to search without leaving cookies. However, websites can still collect and share information about the user.

Each browser (Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari) has an option to open a private browsing window. Once you open the browser, click the option for private browsing (also called a “Private Window” in Firefox and Internet Explorer and an “Incognito Window” in Chrome) on the toolbar.

Tutorial Searches: Using Private Browsing Mode

If your preferred browser or mobile device is not listed, simply change the last word of the search criteria to the correct browser. Please note that even when using Private Browsing Mode, some websites may be able to track your visit, and some software on your computer such as parental control software and network monitoring software used by employers may be able to view your browsing history.