NEW YORK - January 26, 2023 - Associate Managing Director Adina Holzman writes in The Jewish Link about the importance of investigators in the age of misinformation:

Investigations in the Age of (Mis)information


NEW YORK - January 26, 2023 - Associate Managing Director Adina Holzman writes in The Jewish Link about the importance of investigators in the age of misinformation:

“As a private investigator working in New York, two recent stories dominated the close of 2022 for me: Sam Bankman-Fried’s multi-billion-dollar house of cards and George Santos’s farcical and fanciful resume. Crypto traders, the broader financial markets, New York’s 3rd Congressional District and the American people. All appear to have been duped. And these stories come on the heels of what feels like increasingly outrageous and damaging acts of public deception. 

We are living in the ultimate age of information and yet, we seem to fall prey to falsehoods and swindlers almost as easily as our Internet-less ancestors. When I was a student in a Jewish high school, I remember learning about Sabbatai Zevi, who lived in the mid-17th century and is regarded as the most notorious false messiah in Jewish history. How completely absurd, I thought at the time, that he retained ardent support from large swaths of the Jewish community, including belief in his proclamation that he was the messiah, even after he publicly converted to Islam and even after he died. (Perhaps fittingly, his followers, who still number in the tens to hundreds of thousands, are called Donmeh or crypto-Jews.)

I recall thinking to myself that a fraudster of such extreme proportions could only have enjoyed the widespread support he received in a pre-information age in which word spread slowly and rumors were able to circulate relatively unchecked. My classmates and I walked away from those discussions believing that we could not be similarly duped. We would have myriad resources to investigate Zevi’s dubious claims: the Internet, the Wayback Machine, his social media profiles, press reports, litigation filings, as well as institutions we could easily contact to verify his credentials. A modern day Sabbatai Zevi would surely be exposed in no time.

Yet we now have become frighteningly aware that the information age has not made us impervious to misinformation in all sorts of contexts, the political, the financial, the medical, and so on. Alternative facts are everywhere. The news is rife with individuals who get away with deception and get ahead with swagger. In the most ironic of twists, the Internet age has made us uniquely ripe for deception, with social media giants like Facebook and Twitter engaged in a constant battle to combat malignant lies on their platforms.

But this is not a piece warning of a dystopian future.  It is a plea for society at large to scrutinize “facts” more closely than might feel comfortable. And to hire professionals to seek out the truth when needed because we are fortunate to live in a time where the facts can be corroborated. I was struck by Tyson Brody’s opinion piece about Congressman-elect Santos in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago in which he walked through the steps opposition researchers take when looking into candidates. Although Brody, a fairly experienced political researcher (I checked), rightly defended aspects of the process that worked, noting how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s research book picked up on some of the rougher details of Santos’s past (including his past evictions, and that his purported charity was unfindable in an IRS database), he glossed over the reality that the more stunning falsehoods of Santos’s resume went unchallenged during his campaign, including his educational background and employment history. Those are REALLY BIG holes in Santos’s story, which were not caught by oppo researchers, perhaps because it’s difficult to imagine that someone would conjure up the entirety of their life experiences out of thin air. Brody defends opposition research while only mildly acknowledging its limitations, saying: “You’d be shocked to know what a 20-something given enough time and direction can find out about a person. But oppo researchers are not private investigators…” He’s right. 

Armed with little more than a laptop and a telephone, Santos’s resume would undoubtedly have fallen apart when tested by the rigor of the private investigator’s process.  Private investigators are dedicated, talented and experienced professionals whose mission is to uncover the truth and verify facts on behalf of their clients every day. We are trained to tenaciously dig and dig and dig, pulling on threads and searching for needles in haystacks in an effort to develop a coherent, complete narrative about an individual or a company based on a full set of facts that can take long hours and dogged work to put together. And we also rely on expensive, sophisticated databases and technologies that help us assemble the facts, tools that the average person, even the savviest opposition researcher,  does not have. Perhaps the appropriate motto for our field is “Don’t Trust but Verify,” a cynical version of Reagan’s line that might be what is required in our loose facts era. 

I recently had a conversation with a prospective client who questioned the utility of our services, somewhat cavalierly asking, “What can you tell me that I can’t find out from Google?” Likewise, when I speak to people about what I do, they sometimes respond along the lines of, “Ooh, I also love stalking people on Facebook!” (These might be the same people who think WebMD can replace the need for medical professionals.) 

If only it were that simple. 

But I am grateful that I get to work in an industry that is mission-driven, committed to pursuing the truth, and uniquely suited to combat the era of misinformation in which we find ourselves.

 Adina Holzman is an Associate Managing Director at Quinlan Partners in New York, where she helps clients obtain the information and intelligence they need to make more confident decisions."

Read the full article here.