In June of this year, a glossary of Internet slang terms and acronyms compiled by the Justice Department’s Intelligence Research Support Unit (IRSU) was released to the public and the police. The question is how valuable this information actually is to the police (or anyone) and if there are bigger concerns that law enforcement should be addressing when it comes to a changing technological world.
MuckRock on a Mission
This story started in January of 2014 when Jason Smathers made a request via the website MuckRock to the U.S. Government as part of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Smathers wanted a copy of any documentation available to FBI agents, personnel and contractors regarding their understanding of “leetspeak,” the online jargon used on many social media websites and elsewhere. (Think “FYI” (for your information), but much more convoluted)
After five months of follow-up with the FBI, a low-resolution PDF of the documents he had requested was sent to Smathers. He posted the document to MuckRock on Tuesday, June 18.
According to their website, “MuckRock is a collaborative news site that brings together journalists, researchers, activists, and regular citizens to request, analyze & share government documents, making politics more transparent and democracies more informed.”
The MuckRock website touts “hundreds of thousands of pages of original government materials” which they state are available to the public for free. In addition to processing requests to find out information as part of FOIA, they also act as their own news site, evaluating and reporting on the documents they receive and encouraging their journalists to develop original stories as well.
To Use Internet Slang, or Not to Use Internet Slang
It has never been a good idea for adults to try to keep up with teenagers, especially when it comes to how they speak. Internet slang is no different. Yet that is at least part of what the FBI claims was the intent of creating the 83-page glossary with almost 3,000 entries and still growing.
According to the IRSU introduction to the document, the glossary is intended as a primer for understanding the shorthand that occurs across the internet, included “instant messages, Facebook, and Myspace.” Yes, Myspace. Another example of adults mistakenly thinking they understand what is popular among the youth. However, the agency went on to say that the list will be “useful in your work or for keeping up with your children and/or grandchildren.”
Unfortunately, some of the information is already outdated or was never really in popular use to begin with, so it seems that the list is perhaps already bloated enough to match the spending that most likely went into creating it. Some of the terms used in the glossary have probably been read by more people as part of the document than actually tweeted. Some examples include:
- IAWTCSM (“I agree with this comment so much”)- 20 tweets
- GIWIST (“gee, I wish I said that”)- 56 tweets
- DITYID (“did I tell you I’m depressed?”)- 69 tweets
- BOGSAT (“bunch of guys sitting around talking”)- 144 tweets
- SOMSW (“someone over my shoulder watching”)- 170 tweets
Having said that, clearly some of these acronyms might be important in considering law enforcement issues. The FBI isn’t denying that “leetspeak,” or “leet” for short, is popular among hackers, and seeing the Internet slang term of HCDAJFU (“he could do a job for us”) even though only tweeted 25 times in Twitter’s history, does lead one to wonder exactly what kind of “job” the user is talking about.
Invading Privacy or Catching up with Technology?
Perhaps more important than whether or not this guide is an accurate reflection of Internet slang and communication is whether it is a step in the right direction or a further invasion of privacy. While much of this may seem humorous, and many are taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to their response, considering last Wednesday’s post about the American Bar Association allowing judges and lawyers to access social media sites when choosing jury members, many are concerned about a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.
However, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the law and law enforcement agencies are still behind the times when it comes to the changing technological world. A considerable amount of crime takes places online, and at this point, no one is exactly sure how to handle such activity.
This lack of protocol is often to the detriment of victims and even sometimes the “perpetrator.” For example, in Australia, youths who have been caught in “sexting” incidents are being listed with other sex offenders, a list they may be stuck on for up to eight years. In the United States, we have our own issues. In regards to “sexting,” some states have decriminalized the consensual exchange of “sexts” between teenagers unless the pictures are forwarded to others without consent.
Understanding the use of Internet slang such as DITYID might also be useful in preventing tragedies. Depression can often lead to suicide or worse in the case of adolescents looking to get back at those whom they perceive as persecutors. Yet when it comes to searching for evidence or clues, the law is unclear on accessing this type of information. Recently a Virginia father tried to access his son’s Facebook account after the boy committed suicide to find clues to his son’s death, but he was denied on account of the fact that the boy had a password-protected electronic account created as part of a legal contract with the social media site. Even though the boy was a minor, according to a 1986 federal law, companies are prohibited from sharing such information, even if stipulated in the account holder’s last will and testament.
The examples go on. Whether it is the U.S. Supreme Court considering how seriously to take threats and violent images posted on Facebook or lawyers trying to figure out how to handle “digital assets” (information we create or that is created about us and stored in digital form) in the case of account holder death, many grey areas still exist in regards to our increasingly online existence.
If understanding that TTYL translates into “talk to you later” means that the government can increase the safety of adults or children without invading their privacy, perhaps the FBI’s Internet slang glossary is a step in the right direction.