The Internet as Weapon Against Human Trafficking

We all know the dark side of the Internet, one of which is using it to facilitate human trafficking. It is good to know also that it can be harnessed to monitor and combat this same form of modern-day slavery.

The finding is result of a year-long investigation by the Center on Communication Leadersip & Policy (CCLP) at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The report, Human Trafficking Online: The Role of Social Networking Sites and Online Classifieds, focuses on how technology and online tools can be used to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.

Just as the Internet has given traffickers easier means of exploiting their victims, online technologies also offer new ways to combat human trafficking, according to the report. For example, online communications from or to traffickers leave behind traces in cyberspace. This information provides important glimpses into criminal behavior, techniques and patterns. And if anti-trafficking investigators can assemble enough of it, they can take specific actions to help victims and prosecute traffickers.

A common starting point for investigators is combing through photos and online advertisements searching for potential victims of sex trafficking, particularly girls who seem younger than their advertised ages, the report reveals.

CCLP research director Mark Latonero, PhD added what law enforcement can do:

“Data mining, mapping and advanced analytics can be developed to support law enforcement and other organizations in fighting human trafficking. The report also describes how mobile phone applications, crowdsourcing and other new technologies might be used to help victims.”

Human Trafficking Online is available at humantraffickingonline.org or by sending an email to commlead@usc.edu.

It is high time that we fight the misconception that the Internet has nothing but its dark sides by using the technology itself to proactively fight human trafficking.