San Diego

SDSU Professor Honored for Decoding Emoticons Used by Human Traffickers

Law enforcement can now decipher emoticons used by human traffickers in sex ads, due to the research.

A San Diego State University (SDSU) professor and his former student were honored as heroes for deciphering emoticons used by human traffickers to confuse the authorities.

The Fowler College of Business at SDSU announced Tuesday that management information systems professor, Murray Jennex, and his former student and SDSU graduate, Jessica Whitney, would be recognized by Soroptimists Together Against Trafficking (STAT!).

During a private ceremony on Friday, the organization praised their research on online human trafficking ads in San Diego.

SDSU officials said Jennex and Whitney created a "knowledge management system" that figured out how traffickers used a series of emojis as code in online classified ads posted in Backpage.

In one example, a cherry or a growing heart could mean the trafficking victim is underage. The research discovered the human traffickers used emojis because law enforcement usually searches for keywords with text in the ads.

A number of law enforcement agencies have now learned from the research methodology. SDSU officials said that includes the district attorneys for the states of New York, Texas and the District Attorney's Office in San Diego.

"It is truly an honor to be recognized by STAT! for our efforts in devising a system that recognizes and identifies the perpetrators of human trafficking," said Jennex, in a statement.

The knowledge management system involves systematically organizing data to glean important information. Scopus recently named Jennex as the world's most published researcher in the field.

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