Date: 6 Mar 2020
Prof Tim Grant and Dr Nicci MacLeod launched their new book 'Language and Online Identities: The Undercover Policing of Internet Sexual Crime.'
Forensic linguistics is at the cutting edge of the undercover policing of child sexual abuse on the open internet and dark web, and language and identity is a fundamental part of this. The authors have drawn on their extensive experience in training undercover officers to develop innovative methods in identifying the creation and performance of online personas, crucial in detecting identity disguise online.
Incorporating the launch book: Grant, T. & MacLeod N. (2020) Language and Online Identities The Undercover Policing of Internet Sexual Crime. CUP
10:00 - 11:00 Dr Nicci MacLeod, Northumbria University. Where it all Began: Linguistic Training for Online Identity Assumption
11:00 - 11:30 Dr Andrea Nini, University of Manchester. Authorship clustering for the dark web: Methodological and theoretical remarks.
11:30 - 12:00 Daniela Schneevogt - AIFL, Aston University. “we were just really in love”: referentiality and clusivity of the pronoun ‘we’ in a Dark Web community of child sex abusers.
12:00 - 1:00 Prof Nuria Lorenzo-Dus, Swansea University. Developing Resistance against Online Grooming: From Linguistic Analysis to Practice-based Interventions.
2:00 -2:45 Matt Sutton, Senior Manager, National Intelligence Hub (CEOP), National Crime Agency. The linguistic contribution to the investigation of online sexual crime – Operation CACAM, the investigation into Matthew Falder.
2:45 - 3:15 Dr Emily Chiang, AIFL, Aston University, Dr Dong Nguyen, Alan Turing Institute and Prof Jack Grieve, University of Birmingham. Rhetorical analysis of suspected child sexual offenders’ interactions in a dark web image exchange chatroom
3:45 - 4:45 Prof Tim Grant AIFL, Aston University Linguistic. Prof Tim Grant identities: theory and practice in dark web child abuse fora.
4:45 Book launch celebration – with light refreshments.
Abstracts for academic talks
Dr Nicci MacLeod - Northumbria University. Where it all Began: Linguistic Training for Online Identity Assumption
The monograph launched during this event is the end product of almost ten years of involvement in the training of online undercover operatives (UCOs) in the linguistic aspects of identity disguise – a task that is required as part of a wide range of types of investigation, including those into the online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
This talk tracked the development of linguistic input into this kind of training from the initial discussions and back-of-an-envelope thoughts on what might be the most relevant theories and ideas for trainees all the way through to the theoretically sophisticated approach to identity that has arisen from these research projects. Heeding Robert’s (2003) plea that “the design and implementation of [applied linguistics] research needs to be negotiated from the start with those who may be affected by it”, Nicci described how she worked in close partnership with practitioners in order to ensure the collaborative research was maximally impactful. Drawing on observations of trainee UCOs preparing for a live operation and a series of trials her and her team had run in which trainees had their performances assessed prior to and after linguistic training, Nicci demonstrated the measurable changes that her research and input has made to professional practice.
As well as addressing some stereotyped beliefs about the way particular groups of people use language online, linguistic input based on Nicci and colleagues’ research also raised trainees’ awareness of higher levels of linguistic analysis, such as pragmatics and interactional patterns. Nicci showed this enhanced knowledge being put into practice in a simulated operation carried out by an experienced UCO as part of the project. She concluded with some thoughts on how the work influenced her team’s thinking around language and identity, a theme picked up by Professor Grant in the afternoon session.
Dr Andrea Nini – University of Manchester. Authorship clustering for the dark web: Methodological and theoretical remarks
An important problem in dark web investigations is how to link usernames that belong to the same person in web forums. Combining data that belongs to the same offender can significantly help investigations but often the only evidence available to link usernames is linguistic. In the field of computational authorship analysis, the task of grouping texts in a corpus by authors is called ‘author clustering’ and it relies on cluster analysis techniques using frequency of linguistic items as features. This task is related to ‘authorship verification’, or the task of confirming that a certain text was written by a specific suspect, which is one of the most difficult tasks in authorship analysis. This talk covered the methodological problems in applying these techniques to dark web forum data and propose some theoretical solutions. Andrea included remarks on how studying this problem can shed more light on our understanding of linguistic individuality for forensic linguistics.
Prof Nuria Lorenzo-Dus, Swansea University. Developing Resistance against Online Grooming: From Linguistic Analysis to Practice-based Interventions.
The internet enriches children’s lives, providing learning, creative, entertainment and social opportunities. Yet it has a dark side, too, potentially exposing them to abuse and harm. This includes sexual grooming, known instances of which are increasing rapidly and with many more cases going unreported. Children who have been / are being groomed via the internet may not tell anyone because they feel ashamed or guilty; some may not even realise that they are being groomed given offenders’ manipulative tactics.
How can we better tackle the problem of online child sexual grooming? In this talk, Nuria advocated the importance of understanding both offenders’ linguistic modus operandi and child victims’ discourse within what is essentially a communicative process of entrapment. Firstly, she introduced the data (pseudo- and real- online grooming conversations) and methods (primarily Corpus Linguistics) that over a series of inter-connected studies have enabled the identification of complex communicative patterns within online child sexual grooming. Secondly, she focused on key results regarding offenders’ strategic use of ‘vague language’ and children’s attempts to resist grooming. Finally, Nuria discussed two interventions geared towards combating online child sexual grooming: a hybrid Artificial Intelligence - Corpus Linguistics tool for detecting groomer language and a prevention-oriented training resource for professionals designed to raise their awareness of groomers’ communicative tactics and children’s discourse in response to them. Both interventions are based upon multi-disciplinary academic work, integrating Linguistics, Computer Sciences, Criminology and Public Policy, and are being developed in collaboration with stakeholders, including child protection and law enforcement agencies.
Daniela Schneevogt, Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics. “we were just really in love”: referentiality and clusivity of the pronoun ‘we’ in a Dark Web community of child sex abusers
Criminals use the Dark Web to build networks for conversation and support (Holt et al. 2015). For those with a sexual interest in children, the internet facilitates the abuse of children, the distribution and consumption of illicit imagery and the exchange of ideas and advice (Durkin et al. 2006; Cohen-Almagor 2013; Holt et al. 2015). Such communities create dense linguistic layers of meaning which are difficult to penetrate by persons outside the community. Drawing on Bell’s (1984) notion of audience design, Van Leeuwen’s (2013) social actor framework and Scheibman’s (2004) concept of clusivity, Daniela’s study aimed to investigate how users of a Dark Web child sex abuse forum use the first person plural pronoun ‘we’ by carrying out a two-fold annotation for semantic referents and clusivity. In these texts, first person pronouns are used in a much wider array of contexts than first anticipated. In addition to the well-studied variation in clusivity – that is, differences between exclusive and inclusive referents – large variation across two further axes was identified: group and function. For example, abusers normalise their actions when referring to both a child and a forum user together as ‘we’, portraying children as active and equal partners in those pseudo-intimate relationships. Scheibman’s (2004) clusivity categories are therefore not sufficient in explaining the different pragmatic functions of the pronoun ’we’ in child abuse forum communication. Applications of these findings include online undercover policing, such as infiltration of crime-related fora, as discussed by Grant and MacLeod (2017, 2020).
Dr Emily Chiang, Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Dr Dong Nguyen, Alan Turing Institute, Prof Jack Grieve, University of Birmingham. Rhetorical analysis of suspected child sexual offenders’ interactions in a dark web image exchange chatroom
Child sexual offenders regularly convene in online spaces to exchange illicit imagery and advice about abusive practices (Davidson & Gottschalk, 2011; Westlake & Bouchard, 2016). In response, law enforcement agencies around the world are increasingly deploying undercover officers who pose as offenders to gather intelligence and evidence on offending communities. Currently, however, little is known about how offenders interact online, raising significant questions around how undercover officers should ‘authentically’ portray the child sexual offender. Emily presented a linguistic description of authentic offender-offender interactions taking place on a dark web image exchange chatroom. She analysed the rhetorical moves and strategies of chatroom users and visualise users’ move structures using Markov chains, enabling us to compare the linguistic behaviours of specific user ‘types’. Emily and colleagues found that the predominant moves characterising this chatroom were Offering Indecent Images, Greetings, Image Appreciation, General Rapport and Image Discussion, and that these moves (and others) were employed differently by users of seemingly greater and lesser offending experience. Based on their findings, Emily suggested some practical take-home messages for undercover agents working in this domain.
Prof Tim Grant, Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics. Linguistic identities: theory and practice in dark web child abuse fora
Tim addressed the idea of a linguistic individual, and how as individuals we draw on an array of resources to perform a variety of online identities. In a theoretical aspect of this discussion Tim explored how the resources we draw on enable but also constrain our identity performances and he showed in practical terms how this has two implications for online undercover officers (UCOs). The first implication is that in attempting to perform as another person the most convincing route will be to acquire the resources that a target individual draws on in their identity performances; and that these resources can be identified through a detailed linguistic analysis of chat logs (as demonstrated by Dr MacLeod in the first session). The second implication is that undercover officers need to learn to suppress those resources which they commonly use to perform their everyday identities where these resources are not also shared by the targeted individual. Failure to achieve this suppression of identity resource can lead to the performance of hybrid identities somewhere between the UCO and their target identity. Tim illustrated these points with a series of examples from dataset used in the book he was launching that day, and he concluded by considering next steps in linguistic research in assisting police in the investigation of online sexual crime.