Linguistic analysis of suspected child sexual offenders’ interactions in a dark web image exchange chatroom

Emily Chiang, Dong Nguyen, Amanda Towler, Mark Hass, Jack Grieve

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Child sexual offenders convene in dark web spaces to exchange indecent image- ry, advice and support. In response, law enforcement agencies deploy undercover agents to pose as offenders online to gather intelligence on these offending com- munities. Currently, however, little is known about how offenders interact online, which raises significant questions around how undercover officers should ‘authen- tically’ 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 Of- fering Indecent Images, Greetings, Image Appreciation, General Rapport and Im- age Discussion, and that rhetorical strategies differ between users of different levels of offending and dark web image-sharing experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-161
Number of pages33
JournalInternational Journal of Speech Language and the Law
Issue number2
Early online date14 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2021


  • analysis
  • child sexual abuse
  • dark web
  • indecent images of children
  • move
  • rhetorical structure
  • undercover police


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