Detecting spam users automatically with a neural network

Genuine Configuration

Although the optimization process aims for a good result with use of the training data, it is possible that the network could, in a sense, learn the training data by heart instead of generalizing and developing a common method. This effect is called overfitting [6]. To test whether the network does generalize, you have to split the data set in advance into training data and validation data. Use the training data for optimizing parameters, determine the accuracy via validation data still unknown to the network, then compare the different network configurations.

In addition to training and validation data, you'll also need to set aside some data for testing the neural network. Training, validation, and test data is typically distributed at an 80:10:10 ratio.

The network here consists of a layer of 30 neurons with the linear activation function and four Relu layers with 30 neurons each. Adam optimizes with a 0.00001 learning rate. After 500 epochs, the activation function achieves an accuracy of 92.6  percent with the validation data and still manages 91.9 percent with test data. The training lasted around 30 minutes on a MacBook Pro.

You can normalize the data in advance if you want to produce a better result. To normalize, begin by weighting the values to the average by subtracting the arithmetic mean. You then bring the data to the interval [-1, 1] by dividing by the standard deviation. It is important to determine the arithmetic mean and standard deviation only with the training data and to reuse these values for the validation, testing, and production data.


The TensorFlow library implements the neural network. TensorFlow comes with TensorBoard, a web app that displays statistics from TensorFlow and processes them graphically (Figure 7). TensorBoard helps with optimizing the network structure and is very well suited for monitoring the learning process and comparing different configurations. TFLearn also uses TensorFlow and provides easier-to-use functions for neural networks.

Figure 7: TensorBoard graphically processes the statistical data from TensorFlow.

See the instructions at the TensorFlow project website for information on how to install TensorFlow [7]. Python package manager pip then installs TFLearn on the hard drive. You will need at least version 0.2.2. We installed TFLearn via Git, as described at the project website  [8]. You will also need the numpy, sklearn, scipy, and pillow packages.

Listing 2 shows excerpts from the script, which trains and evaluates neural networks (Listing 3) and is used for classification (see Listing 4).

Listing 2

train Function from


Listing 3

evaluate Function from


Listing 4

predict Function from


Listing 2 demonstrates how the developer can train a network with TFLearn. The script first loads the input data from the CSV file before splitting and normalizing the data. The script then saves the mean value and standard deviation of the training data to apply them to the production data later on. The best_checkpoint_path parameter (line 17) instructs TFLearn to save the state of the network each time as soon as the script achieves higher accuracy with the validation data during training. The script trains the network across epochs with n_epoch via the method from the TFLearn library.

Listing 3 deals with evaluation of the network. First, the code re-imports the CSV file with the input data. The script divides the data equally with each execution according to the random number generator's fixed seed. It then retrieves the mean value and the standard deviation, normalizing the test data. To finish, it evaluates the network status with the best accuracy and determines the hit rate of the test data set with model.evaluate().

The code in Listing 4 allows the network to classify the data. It also reads the data to be classified as a CSV file, normalizes it, loads the network status, and classifies data sets with model.predict(). The function outputs the probabilities for each class per data set.


The file determines the structure and configuration of the individual networks (Listing 5). An experiment is a function. It returns a tuple consisting of input data, network, optimization methods, batch size, and number of epochs. Here, input is a tuple including the CSV file name, the list of columns with properties, and the column that specifies the class.

Listing 5


The methods tflearn.input_data(), tflearn.batch_normalization(), and tflearn.fully_connected() define the network's layers. The developer individually assigns each layer a size and an activation function. The input layer receives the properties, with their size depending on their number. There should be a batch normalization layer ahead of each fully connected layer. The softmax type, with the number of classes as its size, is recommended for the last layer.

The batch size reveals how many data sets the optimization method processes at once during an iteration. The higher the figure, the more smoothly the loss and accuracy graphs are plotted in TensorBoard and the faster TensorFlow trains the network, although a higher batch size also requires more resources. A figure between 128 and 1024 is a good reference value.

The epochs variable in the script represents the number of epochs, so it specifies how frequently the neural network manages to learn the entire training set. This network mostly converged after 500 iterations, so it is worth using a higher value in this instance. You can manually cancel the training as soon as the loss no longer changes.

Call up:

python train experiment

to train a network, where experiment is the name of a function that you created earlier in the file. The current loss and the accuracy of both the training and the validation data appear directly in the terminal during training. TensorBoard represents the values as a graph. To start TensorBoard, use:

tensorboard -logdir=/tmp/tflearn_logs/

Usually you call the web interface in the browser with The plotted graphs for accuracy and loss are hidden behind the Events entry. You can select the experiments under the Runs section. The data usually updates automatically every 120 seconds; you can also update manually on request by clicking the button at the top right.

If you have found a good configuration and feel satisfied with the accuracy of the network, you can perform a check by entering

python evaluate experiment

to establish how well the network detects still-unknown test data. You must also store new data sets in a CSV file to classify them and call them up with the command:

python predict experiment Input

The network classifies the data and outputs the probabilities for the corresponding classes line by line. In the example here, the first value for each line describes the probability of the user having good intentions, and the second provides the same for spammer suspects.

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