In an effort to deter would-be sex offenders from preying on underage youth, DNA in Seattle
has created and launched 'Project: SugarFree', an automated AI technology platform that intercepts predatory social media posts, reports and identifies exploiters, and in six weeks while still in beta, has successfully removed nearly 1,000 posts originating in Washington State for elicit content.
'Project: SugarFree' was created by DNA to support Seattle non-profit StolenYouth
, an organisation focused on dismantling marketplaces that fuel child sex trafficking. The technology built by DNA looks for 'sugaring language' as the first step in a process of disrupting the 'sugar' lifestyle. The practice of 'sugaring' typically involves wealthy older men engaging in a commercial transaction where they provide gifts, money, trips, and other things of value in exchange for the time and attention of younger women and men. The lure of sugaring – looking for or being a sugar daddy, sugar mama or sugar baby – has been identified by law enforcement as a first step into prostitution and a way to attract child sex trafficking victims and exploiters.
“We were conducting a social listening exercise for a client in the financial services space and noticed tens of thousands of posts using sugaring language while mentioning our client and other big banks by name,” explained Rob Scherzer, senior data strategist at DNA. “This disturbing trend galvanised us to find a way to use technology to fight back on behalf of would-be victims. We created 'Project: SugarFree' to respond in real time with facts and data to dissuade vulnerable populations from entering into sugaring relationships while reporting and removing exploiters and potential criminals from the Twitter platform.”
Preliminary data shows such impact as nearly 4000 reported tweets, almost 1000 tweets removed, and eight exploiters removed from the platform. The automated AI platform uses an army of Twitter bots to seek out potential sugaring moments. The bot chooses and posts an appropriate response from a database of hundreds of pre-crafted graphics and copy designed to reply to those curious about sugaring lifestyles with facts and messages of deterrence. Tweets identified as predatory are reported.
Below is one tweet from a 'curious' individual exploring the idea of Sugaring:
Potential exploiters might get a post that says:
“Sugaring, like other sex crimes, is a crime of power and privilege where abusers have the power and those being exploited typically come from our most marginalised and vulnerable communities,” explained Marnie Backer, executive director at StolenYouth. “'Project: SugarFree' is a unique technology platform that shuts down one of the on-ramps to exploitive behaviour.”
In developing this program, DNA consulted with King County senior deputy prosecuting attorney, Benjamin Gauen, who leads his office’s anti-trafficking initiatives and case work. Benjamin said that he has seen an increase in sex trafficking and assault cases that arise from sugaring relationships as sugaring is being marketed to younger people including college and high school aged youth: “We are thrilled to partner with DNA and StolenYouth to leverage this intervention technology in a way that prevents harm by educating people about the true risks of sugaring.”
For DNA, building the tech platform for 'Project: SugarFree' became an imperative to leverage its data and tech capabilities with its marketing and insights.
“As we have seen with this initiative, the use of data and how you can leverage it to bring a real impact to social issues goes way beyond what we as an advertising agency traditionally do for clients,” explained Alan Brown, CEO of DNA. “But given our agency’s long history with StolenYouth, the synchronicity of how 'Project: SugarFree' came together is an amazing demonstration of how we can use our insights to impact our City, State and the world beyond.”
You can learn more about child sex trafficking and what is being done to prevent it at StolenYouth’s virtual 'Not On Our Watch
' event tomorrow at 5pm PST.
Kyra Doubek, executive director and survivor leader of Washington Trafficking Prevention recommends the following steps to prevent sugaring and trafficking of youth:
1) Keep your children's phone during sleeping hours
2) Do not allow access to social media apps for kids under 15 years of age
3) Closely moderate applications that are being downloaded to your child's phone. Set up safety features that require parental approval
5) Implement a Youth Technology Agreement