The Role of Social Media Algorithms in Human Trafficking Incidents

This case study explores a legal scenario where multiple plaintiffs fell victim to human trafficking via a social media platform, alleging the site's algorithms failed to detect illicit activities.

ByExpert Institute


Published on February 6, 2024

Woman using mobile phone

Case Overview

This case study delves into a complex legal scenario involving multiple plaintiffs who became victims of human trafficking via a prominent social media platform. The crux of the allegation is that the algorithms designed by the site to detect potential human trafficking activities were ineffective.

This alleged failure purportedly enabled perpetrators to access their victims easily. An expert witness with profound knowledge and experience in social media algorithms was called upon to review the case and provide an informed opinion.

Questions to the expert and their responses


Could you describe your professional background in social media algorithms, particularly their development?

I currently hold a position as a Professor of Human-Centered Security, Privacy, and AI at a prestigious university.

My past roles include working as a data and research scientist at leading tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft Research, and Google. A significant portion of my work revolves around anti-surveillance technologies, which necessitates an in-depth understanding of how algorithms identify and track individuals.


In your opinion, what is the responsibility of a social media site to monitor illicit activity by its users?

As a society, we are still defining social media sites’ responsibilities. However, it’s clear that if centralized online social networks like Facebook want to reap the benefits of harvesting and monetizing personal data unfettered, they must bear some responsibility for ensuring that their platforms are not used for illicit activities.


From a technical perspective, how can social media algorithms be utilized to identify illicit activity on the site?

Social media platforms have access to vast amounts of information. Beyond direct interactions and content from users, they also have access to location data, engagement networks, and often what users view online (through third-party cookies). This data can be used to infer many things including where users were, who they were with, and perhaps what they were doing. Depending on the fidelity of the recorded data, it may be possible to identify illicit activity.

About the expert

This expert boasts over a decade of experience in data science, cybersecurity, and mobile technology, with advanced degrees in human-computer interaction. They have an impressive academic record, having published numerous peer-reviewed articles on topics related to cybersecurity and authentication systems, and have been the recipient of several prestigious research grants. Their professional background includes roles as a research intern at leading tech companies, an assistant professor of interactive computing at a renowned institute, and currently serving as an assistant professor for the human-computer interaction institute at a university in Pennsylvania.

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