Forensic Internet Linguistics

Evaluating internet conversations to identify potential criminals is a task I wish could be invested in more.   The internet makes criminal behavior such as stalking and acts of violence much easier while leaving the criminals hard to track down.  We constantly hear stories of pedophiles using chat rooms and social networking websites to connect with innocent teenagers and abuse them.  It is a real threat and one that could potentially be prevented.

David Crystal used some realistic methods of identifying predators.  Unfortunately, his corpus was relatively limited, as it is hard to obtain data from these cases.  I think it would not be an infringement of rights for this information to be shared to prevent these crimes.  It’s not for publication or even for sheer curiosity.  It’s for safety.

I also do not think it would infringe on rights to survey children’s internet conversations.  Minors already do not have all the rights of an adult, and this is for protection.  Why shouldn’t their online activity be moderated, at least by computer programs looking for the suggestive words such as the ones that Crystal used in his study?  It’s not to limit privacy.  Molestation and rape are real dangers.  I know individuals who have gone through these awful experiences, and it can scar people for life.

It is interesting how language usage can reveal intentions.  Isolated words aren’t necessarily bad, but how often they’re used can be enough to signal crimes before they occur.  Unfortunately, I have my doubts such a system could be perfect.  In rare cases, there may be a high level of suggestive words without any malicious intentions.  I would hope this wouldn’t lead to anyone being falsely criminalized.  I do not know why there would be a high level of suggestive words in such a case, but it’s a factor to consider.  Also, criminals aren’t necessarily unintelligent.  Ones that get away with their crimes may be skilled at being discrete, and so I am certain there would be predators who would find ways around the system.

Despite risks, I think that this research should be taken further.  It’s a huge advancement in the safety of children, which is something I do not believe is worth ignoring.  I don’t know how to easily obtain information and permission to carry this out, but I think it is something that truly needs to be done.  The internet has brought about a new medium for criminals, and it is important that, as we do with all other mediums, there be laws for the safety of individuals, especially children.

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