Intelligence Cell Research Analysts, Natalie Polanosky and Sarah Jasinski, have been working to compile information regarding child sex trafficking in the United States this summer. A demo involving Praescient’s ANB platform to demonstrate the movement of domestic CSAM in Texas will wrap up the duo’s research from this session. Their efforts follow notional cell tower data, Thomson Reuters (TR) CLEAR data, and witness reporting to portray how law enforcement can follow leads to find children in vulnerable sex trafficking situations. Today, Natalie dives deeper into their research towards understanding how social media ties into the recruitment process for child sex traffickers in the US.
Social Media Recruitment on the Rise
A significant uptick in social media usage among children has increased online safety and security conversations over the past few years. From January of 2015 to December of 2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline documented 845 cases of sex trafficking victims who were recruited through online platforms. Those numbers have continued to rise with the growing popularity of social media and the use of platforms for trafficking recruitment.
The platforms with high-risk users such as Facebook and Instagram have fed recent trends in algorithm updates that have proven to be concerning for minors online. Traffickers have successfully paid for targeted advertising on image-based platforms in order to generate leads for communication, extortion, or data phishing links that can pull identifiers and personal information or prey on vulnerable populations. A University of Toledo study identified nine vulnerabilities that minors express online and how traffickers use those factors to exploit and target them. Each of the nine vulnerabilities allow traffickers to quickly identify potential victims and approach them accordingly on select platforms. For a platform such as Snapchat, this may be done via a geotagged story posted by a minor about their stress at home. It can be a public Instagram image or even a Facebook status shared by a child looking to fulfill a desire or need. Any pieces of identifying information or links to communication such as direct messaging or private chats can lead to online grooming and eventually trafficking. So how can law enforcement work to track this?
Countermeasures Against CSAM
Law enforcement has increased their efforts to combat the issue of CSAM on social media by tracking recruitment tactics and compiling community reports to further follow the leads generated by the traffickers. These efforts have expanded beyond state borders as law enforcement has enlisted the help of posts and stations from other parts of the country to create a joint-effort plan to protect minors on the internet who are impacted by traffickers.
Countermeasures are moving into place in order to work preventatively against the issue. Systems like PhotoDNA and photo hash systems can help scan and identify images that might be of concern to the general public. Law enforcement agencies are also working to run identity and risk checks against sex offender registries across multiple states and existing department databases to identify high-risk users. With the rapidly evolving nature of social media, law enforcement has to be in constant communication with cross-border agencies and detachments in order to adequately track developing trafficking cases that are hosted on social media platforms.
OSINT and the Ongoing Issue
With the continuing increase in social media usage across the country, the need to monitor and track activity on the various platforms will only become more necessary. Open Source Intelligence has served as an option for police departments to leverage initial identification of criminal activity online and tracking known actors up to this point. As the online environment develops and changes, law enforcement will benefit from platforms such as Analyst’s Notebook (ANB) for building out cases and digging for further connections between cases and disparate data. By using these analytical tools and partnering with data analytics companies like Praescient Analytics, law enforcement can pinpoint CSAM, streamline their intelligence efforts, and begin to reallocate resources across the United States to better combat the ongoing problem of human trafficking.