Algorithm can track online drug trafficking

Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 6:04 PM EDT
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - You might think of drug deals going down in a dark alley, but more and more they’re happening online.

WVU researchers are using math to help authorities find and stop it.

5′s John Blashke has the story.

Criminals are getting off the streets and getting online. Since the internet is infinitely huge, its easy for them to hide and conduct business.

But researchers at WVU may have a way to deal with it.

“We are finding the needle in the haystack.”

Dr. Xin Li’s team of researchers have been using an algorithm to identify 9 different types of drugs. It recognizes both words and images in social media posts that may imply drug trafficking.

“Twenty years ago drug trafficking was done in the physical world and they had their own ways of communicating,” said Li. “The drug trafficking has coevolved with information technology over the past twenty years.”

Li says internet platforms, especially social media sites, are lucrative for drug trafficking and his teams algorithm has adapted to combat it.

“Drug dealers constantly look for the best advertising platform and it turns out that Instagram becomes more high profile and attractive than twitter,” said Li.

The algorithm screens online posts and collects the flagged data -- saving drug enforcement officers time and manpower.

While his department hasn’t used the algorithm yet, Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell says the technology sounds promising.

“The drug trafficking issue is a very serious problem and we’re going to use any resource we can,” said Powell. “Something better that can augment what we’re already doing that’s something that we’re always looking forward to if its beneficial we will certainly utilize it.”

Li says his team is already working with the Department of Justice and has a meeting on Monday about a partnership with the West Virginia Fusion Center.

Reporting in Morgantown John Blashke 5 news.

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