Applications of FireAnt in Forensic (Corpus) Linguistics: Identifying Angels on Ashley Madison

Claire Hardaker1 & Laurence Anthony2

1LAEL, Lancaster University  2Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University, Japan.

Ashley Madison (AM) is a website that describes itself as "the most famous name in infidelity and married dating" and uses the tagline "Life is short. Have an affair." The AM site was created in 2001 by Avid Life Media Inc. (ALM), taking its name from the two most popular girls' names of the time. ALM's then-CEO, Noel Biderman, repeatedly supported the philosophy of extra-marital affairs, but unsurprisingly, not everyone agreed with him. In July 2015, an anonymous group calling itself the Impact Team contacted ALM and ordered them to take down AM, as well as an associated site, Established Men. When ALM did not comply, over a series of days in August 2015, the Impact Team released onto the dark net several large data-dumps containing a wide array of information about thirty to forty million AM users, including email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, relationship status, physical descriptions, personal habits, and sexual preferences. Within hours of this leak, it became apparent that not all the accounts at AM were operated by humans. Instead, some (known as "Angels" in emails sent between members of the management team) were operated by software. In this presentation, we describe the results of an investigation into the AM Angel accounts and discuss ways in which we can establish their differences from ordinary user accounts. To conduct the investigation, we used a newly developed freeware tool called FireAnt that enabled us to easily extract relevant data from the AM data sources, visualize that data in the form of time-series plots, network graphs, and geolocation maps, and export data for further analysis using traditional corpus tools. As part of the presentation, we will introduce the FireAnt tool and show how it can be used to conduct similar analyses on other datasets.

This will be a joint talk between UCREL and the FORGE (

Week 20 2015/2016

Thursday 17th March 2016

Furness LT 2