Automated online messages as a cybercrime prevention strategy: results of two randomised controlled experiments

A/Prof. Jeremy Prichard1, Prof Richard Wortley, Adjunct Professor Paul Watters, Dr Joel  Scanlan, Dr Charlotte  Hunn, Dr Caroline Spiranovic, A/Prof Tony Krone

1University Of Tasmania

The viewing and sharing of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is an expanding problem requiring primary prevention strategies. Over two experiments, we examined whether messages would dissuade males (18-32 years) from visiting fake websites that promised (a) ‘barely legal’ pornography (experiment 1), or (b) free access to pornography in exchange for uploading a sexual image of a female (experiment 2). Participants (total n=959) seeking the sites were randomly assigned to one of nine conditions. For each experiment there was a control group that went straight to the landing pages of the relevant pornography site. Experimental groups encountered a warning message randomly generated from a bank of messages that differed for each experiment. Messages varied according to the: message theme (deterrence, harm, therapeutic diversion); whether they incorporated images; and whether they incorporated animation. We measured the attempted click through to the sites. Attrition rates for the controls groups were 27-40%, compared with 38-65% for the experimental groups. We argue that appropriately designed online messages offer a valuable and cost effective strategy that can help reduce CSAM offences. Implications for other online crimes are considered, including fraud and drug trafficking.


Jeremy Prichard’s training was in law and psychology and he is an Associate Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Tasmania. He collaborates with multiple disciplines to develop novel strategies to reduce the harms of crime. Jeremy has researched the CSAM market since 2011. He has spent the last six years developing an online environment in which it is ethical and safe to conduct experiments with naïve participants.


Dec 09 2021