Covert Online Ethnography and Machine Learning for Detecting Individuals at Risk of Being Drawn into Online Sex Work
How can we identify individuals at risk of being drawn into online sex work? The spread of online communication removes transaction costs and enables a greater number of people to be involved in illicit activities, including online sex trade. As a result, social media platforms often work as springboard for criminal careers posing a significant risk to the economy, public health and trust. Detecting deviant behaviors online is limited by the poor availability of ground-truth data and machine learning tools. Unlike prior work which focuses exclusively on either qualitative or quantitative methods, in this paper we combine covert online ethnography with semi-supervised learning methodologies, using data from a popular European adult forum. We obtained risk assessment results of 78 users using covert online ethnography, and set out to build a machine learning model that can predict the risk factor in other 28,832 users. Results show that a combination-based approach in which all features are used yields the most accurate results.