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Categories:  Research

On the internet, no one knows you’re lying

Bing Liu

Bing Liu uses data mining to find fraud online. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

This year, UIC honors 10 outstanding researchers with the Researcher of the Year Award, a $5,000 cash prize. Five established faculty members were named Distinguished Researchers and five early career scientists were honored as Rising Stars.

Bing Liu
Distinguished Researcher
Natural Sciences & Engineering

With social media, it’s easier than ever to check out what people think about restaurants, hotels and more.

But it’s not easy to know who is telling the truth — if they’ve even been to the restaurant or hotel they’re reviewing, or if the reviewer is an employee pretending to be a patron.

That’s where Bing Liu comes in. He combs through an enormous amount of data — a process called data mining — to discover and analyze people’s behavior and opinions on the web.

“Social media has become so popular in the past 10 years, it’s essentially created another (virtual) society of people,” said Liu, professor of computer science and a 2008 University Scholar.

“On the internet, you can hide behind anonymous names — you can do anything you want to do.”

Following the data trail can uncover clues about the writer’s identity.

“If there are all these positive reviews from a hotel but they are all coming from the location of the hotel, that sounds fishy,” Liu said.

Liu can track the links that led the writer to a review site such as Yelp. Some reviews have been traced to websites from business owners promising to pay writers for positive reviews, he said.

His research on retailers paying for positive reviews was featured in a January 2012 front-page story in the New York Times.

Liu has developed algorithms and software that can quickly scan data and detect information patterns.

“When people do things, they always leave some patterns,” Liu said. “With the information on patterns, we can use it for practical work.”

It’s critical to pinpoint deceptive and spam reviews because so many people value them, Liu said.
“As human beings, our behavior is conditioned by other people’s opinions,” Liu said. “We always want to listen to everyone else.”

But don’t expect to read any comments from Liu out there in cyberspace. He doesn’t have any personal social media accounts.

“I read them, but I don’t participate,” he said.

Other Researchers of the Year

Natasha Devroye: Rising Star, Natural Sciences & Engineering 

Xiaoping Du: Distinguished Researcher, Basic Life Sciences 

Leon Fink: Distinguished Researcher, Humanities 

Stacie Geller: Distinguished Researcher, Clinical Sciences 

Rachel Havrelock: Rising Star, Humanities 

Seungpyo Hong: Rising Star, Basic Life Sciences

Ben Superfine: Rising Star, Social Sciences 

Krista Varady: Rising Star, Clinical Sciences 

Maria Varelas: Distinguished Researcher, Social Sciences