Clarkson University Professors Collaborate with Lawyer on Extracting Activities of Interest from Dense Social Media Content

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Source: Clarkson University

Sorting through paper records can be tedious, but sifting through the myriad bits of personal data that people tend to post on social media is like searching for a cyber needle in a cyber haystack. Luckily, that task just got a lot easier, thanks to two Clarkson University professors.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Natasha Banerjee and Assistant Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering Sean Banerjee operate Clarkson's Terascale All-sensing Research Studio, or TARS, where they perform research on understanding how humans interact in the real-world and in online environments.

As part of that research, they recently developed a way to sort through vast amounts of social media, creating an effective, quick and better way of locating specific information.

“People share so much of their everyday life online now,” Natasha Banerjee said. “A lot of civil cases depend on this data, so lawyers are looking at social media such as Facebook and Twitter. They search for keywords, but struggle with massive amounts of information to look through.”

Last year, she and her husband were at a wedding when they happened to chat with Michael Simms, a lawyer from West Virginia who was in that exact situation. He mentioned how frustrating it was searching through social media for a case. Sean Banerjee suggested they talk and “it ended up being a productive discussion,” he added.

The result was a shortcut through the cyber haystack. The Banerjees developed an algorithm that automatically scrolls through series of screen shots of social media pages that contain essential phrases and words pertinent to the case. This “image-based text forensics for e-discovery in social media websites,” helped Simms settle the civil case he had been working on.

“They managed to provide me with a service that big companies could not provide me with, and in an easy-to-use format,” Simms noted happily. “They really nailed it for me.”

The Banerjees are one of first to provide this type of service and hope to reach out to lawyers and let them know they have the expertise that can help them.

“It was nothing short of amazing. They gave me the information, narrowly tailored to what I needed,” Simms added. “All parties in civil litigation are looking hard at social media. This is a service that others could use, I'm sure. If I need them again, that's who I'm turning to.”

The Banerjees' work also potentially can tie in to Clarkson University's interests in cybersecurity. They submitted a paper about their work to the 2017 Annual Symposium on Information Assurance (ASIA). The paper was accepted as a publication, so they will be presenting it at the ASIA conference that will be held this June in conjunction with the New York State Cyber Security Conference in Albany.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

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