Fighting Cyber Molestation with Linguistics

02 Oct 2019

The 10th International Media Conference, organized by the International Children’s Safety Service, was held at the beginning of October in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The title and main topic was, ‘The Impact of the Media on Children and Youth’, and one of the presentations focused on online child abuse, also known as ‘Cyber molestation’. Children are often at risk of meeting paedophiles using pseudonyms in online chat rooms. In recent years, there has been an increasing number of measures put in place to prevent child abuse. For instance, in Hungary anyone can report these cases through an Internet Hotline operated by the National Media and Info Communications Authority. Last year, 91 notifications were submitted through the site, which is probably a much lower number than the actual cases, but it is a step in the right direction; in 2017, only 56 notifications were submitted.

Reporting harassment is only the first step, however, and it doesn’t mean that the authorities can identify the perpetrator. Sára Ránki, a forensic linguist, highlighted in her presentation that the tools of linguistic profiling can help uncover those using fake profiles to threaten or harm young children online. According to Ránki, ‘the usage of the language is unique and two different speakers are not able to create the same sentence’. They can use the same words or have a similar vocabulary, but their sentence structure will never be the same. Through linguistic profiling, experts can identify the sociodemographic features of the authors and find out whether two or more texts were written by the same person. Linguistic tools also can help to decode pseudonyms. Ránki suggests that people often unconsciously put personal information in their pseudonyms, such as their birth place or birth date.

A well-structured linguistic database could help to decrease cases of cyber molestation. Moreover, children and young people are not only facing the threat of cyber molestation, but of online linguistic manipulation as well. For example, they can easily be manipulated into telling their online chat partners their addresses or when their parents leave the house. Furthermore, improper texts and messages can affect children’s language socialization. For this reason, improving the tools of linguistic profiling and working out a forensic science vocabulary should be a significant issue to prevent online child abuse in the future.

You can read the whole article in Hungarian here.


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