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Fine-grained Classification of Drug Trafficking Based on Instagram Hashtags

NCJ Number
Decision Support Systems Volume: 165 Issue: 113896 Dated: 2023
Date Published

In this paper the authors present an approach they developed for using artificial intelligence to classify hashtags from social media posts advertising the sale of illicit drugs.


Social networks have become important platforms for the marketing and sale of illicit drugs. Hashtags make it easier for users to engage in drug trafficking, further increasing the risk of drug abuse. However, there are significant challenges in the detection and management of drug trafficking activities. In addition, the rapid legalization of some drugs has required a fine-grained classification of drugs to distinguish them from those that are illegal. Motivated by these observations, in this paper, the authors discuss their development of a methodology using the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technology to classify hashtags from posts advertising illicit drugs for sale on social networks. Theu present a semi-supervised, deep learning approach to classify hashtags from posts advertising illicit drugs. An elegant combination of Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) with Graph Convolutional Network (GCN) allowed them to analyze the characteristics (e.g., shipping region and platform self-regulation) of illegal drug trafficking. Their BERT+GCN model achieved the best performance with more than 75 percent accuracy compared to the other three baseline models. Then, fine-grained hashtags identified are applied to explore the characteristics of drug trafficking. Finally, they report their results for further exploration of shipping regions and self-regulation of drug trafficking on the platform in two analysis scenarios. The authors’ developed approach has shown its effectiveness in detecting hashtags for different types of drugs from illegal drug sellers. Based on hashtag classification, they also provide two case studies that indicate that there are differences in self-regulation for different types of drugs on social media, and that there are regional differences in the demand for different types of drugs. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2023