Computer forensics researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently partnered with Facebook on an initiative that could ultimately curb drug sales and drug-seeking behavior on the platform. They’re developing computer algorithms that can recognize the newest slang for street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.
Gary Warner, director of research at UAB’s Computer Forensics Research Lab, works along with his staff to monitor conversations on Facebook around the use and sale of illicit drugs.
Dealers on the site often disguise themselves as chemical supply companies. They and some drug seekers often use covert slang for drugs. Warner’s team uses machine learning to teach Facebook these new terms and flag the content.
On the seller’s side, the objective is to make it so that if someone tries to post content to Facebook that’s about selling drugs, they won’t be able to put that post up. Then on the buyer’s side, it’s about referring them to help.
Help comes in the form of a Facebook redirect to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration homepage. From there, people can find the nearest treatment options.