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Texting study to identify criminals

Psychologists at the University of Leicester are investigating the language of SMS, or texting, in a bid to target and identify criminals.

In the first study of its kind, linguistic forensics experts at the university’s School of Psychology will examine volunteer text messages to establish how well an individual can be identified by their texting style.

A similar technique played a crucial role in the conviction of Stuart Campbell for the murder of 15 year old schoolgirl Danielle Jones in 2002. During the case, Campbell’s defence submitted two messages supposedly sent from Danielle after her disappearance in 2001, but forensic analysis proved differences between these SMSes and those sent before Danielle’s disappearance.

Forensic linguistics revealed that the texts in question were actually sent by Campbell after the abduction of Danielle using her phone. Campbell was subsequently found guilty of murder.

The six month study, which hopes to attract at least 100 anonymous volunteers, will assess similarities and differences in texting style, between texts sent by individuals and within and between groups of people who frequently text one another.

Dr. Tim Grant, the forensic linguist leading the study, said: “As texting is both a relatively new mode of communication and a particularly informal way of using language, there is not a strong expectation that texters will follow linguistic conventions. This freedom therefore allows for significant individual differences in text messaging style, and this can be used to identify the text’s authors.

“Specifically, the study will examine how one person’s style is influenced by texts received from their friends.”

Grant said forensic authorship analysis has also been used in cases involving disputed confession, the sending of abusive or threatening emails or letters and in cases of copyright infringement.

The study’s webpage is found here.


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