Tweets Reveal How UK Felt About National Events
A new study analyzed tweets from people all over the U.K., to determine the country's daily moods.
CREDIT: Darren Baker | Shutterstock.com
A new program monitors U.K. residents' feelings by the tweets they post on the microblogging service Twitter. The program has already found annual cycles of emotions around holidays and events including nationwide urban riots and Prince William's marriage to Kate Middleton, said artificial intelligence researchers at the University of Bristol. The researchers presented their paper today (April 16) at a small conference about social media data held in Lyon, France.
This isn't the first time scientists have turned to Twitter to uncover secrets of how people are feeling around the world. Several studies have used Twitter data to determine people's moods during certain hours of the day. The new Bristol study tries to link U.K. residents' moods to U.K. events between January 2009 and January 2012.
The researchers collected 484 million tweets from 9.8 million U.K. Twitter users. They then ran an analysis that harvested words from tweets, then used a research program called WordNet-Affect to assign the words to one of four moods — anger, fear, joy or sadness. They then calculated each word's frequency and determined the U.K.'s overall mood from the frequency of different words on different days.
They found that every year, U.K. residents' joy increased in small spikes around New Year's, Valentine's Day and Easter. A big spike of joy came around Christmas. On the other hand, sadness increased every Halloween. One weakness of this analysis is that they may be catching greetings, such as "Happy New Year!" instead of actual mood, researcher wrote in their paper. But the consistent, year-to-year shape of people's moods shows their method is accurate, they said.
After the holiday check, they looked for anomalies in mood that might correlate with important national events. They found increases in fear and anger after the U.K. government announced budget cuts in October 2010. Fear and anger also increased before major riots broke out in August 2011.
In early May 2011, however, there was one pause in the rising ill feeling. Perhaps the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, held April 29, 2011, temporarily arrested fear and anger among U.K. people, the researchers wrote in their paper. "The period preceding the royal wedding seems to be marked by a lowered incidence of anger and fear, which starts rising soon after that," Nello Cristianini, the lead author on the paper, said in a statement. "Of course, other events also happened in early May 2011, so they may also be responsible for that increase."
"We leave the interpretation of our findings to social and political scientists," he added.
In their paper, Cristianini and his colleagues also mentioned that the mood shifts before the August riots "could possibly be used as indicators." Across the Atlantic, U.S. intelligence agencies are already funding a project to gather social media data to help predict crimes, riots and wars.