Linguistic analysis of suspected child sexual offenders’ interactions in a dark web image exchange chatroom
Keywords:dark web, child sexual abuse, indecent images of children, move analysis, rhetorical structure, undercover police
Child sexual offenders convene in dark web spaces to exchange indecent imagery, advice and support. In response, law enforcement agencies deploy undercover agents to pose as offenders online to gather intelligence on these offending communities. Currently, however, little is known about how offenders interact online, which raises significant questions around how undercover officers should ‘authentically’ portray the persona of a child sexual offender. This article presents the first linguistic description of authentic offender–offender interactions taking place on a dark web image exchange chatroom. Using move analysis, we analyse chatroom users’ rhetorical strategies. We then model the move sequences of different users and user types using Markov chains, to make comparisons between their linguistic behaviours. We find the predominant moves characterising this chatroom are Offering Indecent Images, Greetings, Image Appreciation, General Rapport and Image Discussion, and that rhetorical strategies differ between users of different levels of offending and dark web image-sharing experience.
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