Forensic linguistics is fast becoming the solvent of internet anonymity.
In the end, it was forensic linguistics that did for the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. The former university professor made the mistake of publishing his manifesto. Industrial Society and Its Future. Armed with a large enough a data set, an FBI team used the fingerprints of his verbal style in the same way that a forensics team would use real fingerprints. …
In recent years, as more and more computers have been added to the mix, the identities that can be winkled out has become uncanny. This week, no less a shadow than Q himself was rumbled.
“Q” is the supposed Trump White House operative with top secret “Q-level” security clearance at the heart of the QAnon movement, who posts gnomic messages, ‘Q Drops’, on far-flung Internet message boards.
No longer anonymous
Using text samples with more than 100,000 words written by Q, and at least 12,000 words by each of the 13 other candidates who they analysed, two independent teams said their computers had honed in on two prime suspects: Paul Furber and Ron Watkins.
The conclusion itself is perhaps the least interesting part. Many hours of both podcast and documentary have already been spilled on establishing that Furber wrote early-Q before being superseded by Watkins in around 2018. …
Rather than ending internet anonymity by fiat, it may be easier to end it by X-Ray. The principles remain the same. First, find a data set of someone’s utterances — Twitter is normally a good start. Next, match it against a dataset of a mysterious internet anon. Assess the correlation. …
Don’t imagine this would only be applied in a forward-going way. Just as the advent of DNA sequencing led to a rash of convictions for historical cases, so too, the capacity to induct from your casual misuse of the Oxford comma will be fodder for historians, employers, and police ‘anti-hate’ squads, in equal measure. Be careful what you wrote.
When I want to be anonymous on the web, I get my dog to write it.