Regardless of the mission, resources available, and OSINT tools, more than anything a successful investigation will frequently boil down to whether or not the appropriate keywords are found and utilised. Even if we know where our adversary resides, they can be nearly impossible to find if we do not also know how they speak.

There is a tendency among OSINT practitioners to rely on the adage “you must have the haystack first to find the needle,” and operate under the impression that the most important challenge is ingesting unmanageable volumes of data-failing to understand what they now have created is a surplus of noise, without the ability to sift through to the signal. Ultimately, keyword choice can be the difference between digging through that haystack piece by piece, hoping your fingers feel metal, or having a high-powered electromagnet that can quickly sift through that haystack and any others you are presented with.

Perhaps just as importantly, the generation of keywords is not a one-off. OSINT practitioners must actively engage in social listening, and adapting as slang and jargon change.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand that not everyone is going to do you a favor and speak English
  • Highlight the importance of slang, jargon, symbology, and even emojis
  • Reinforce the need to not only find communities of interest, but practice social listening to remain engaged


David Wells has been involved in various aspects of the OSINT community for well over a decade. He was integral in creating and maintaining 4 and 2 week long OSINT training pipelines still being taught to members of the Special Operations community. He has trained offices across multiple DoD branches, joined Twitter’s Global Threat Management team as ISIS was reaching its peak on the platform, worked with the State Department in Basrah, Iraq, and has trained many commercial clients as well.