New research has analysed the mood
of Twitter users in the UK and detected various changes in the
mood of the public. In particular, the researchers observed a
significant increase in negative mood, anger and fear, coinciding
with the announcement of spending cuts and last summer's riots
together with a possibly calming effect during the royal
Mood tracking via Twitter
In this study the researchers focused on measuring the mood, and
changes, using standard tools for mood detection, of a large sample
of the UK population. A collection of 484 million tweets generated
by more than 9.8 million users from the UK were analysed between
July 2009 and January 2012, a period marked by economic downturn
and some social tensions.
The findings present intriguing patterns that can be explained
when events and social changes are taken into account. The
researchers found that a significant increase in negative mood
indicators coincided with the announcement of the cuts to public
spending by the government, and that this effect is still lasting.
They also detected events such as the riots of summer 2011, as well
as a possible calming effect in the run up to the royal wedding.
Intriguingly, a rise in public anger seems to have already been
under way in the days before the riots.
Large data set
Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence,
speaking about the research, said: "Social media allows for the
easy gathering of large amounts of data generated by the public
while communicating with each other.
"While we leave the interpretation of our findings to social and
political scientists, we observed how the period preceding the
royal wedding seems to be marked by a lowered incidence of anger
and fear, which starts rising soon after that. Of course, other
events also happened in early May 2011, so they may also be
responsible for that increase."
The aim of the study was to see if the effects of social events
could be seen in the contents of Twitter. The first part of the
researchers analysis provides a sanity check, in that it
corroborates their assumption that word-counting methods can
provide a reasonable approach to sentiment or mood analysis.
Happy days, angry days
While this approach is standard in many applications, the
researchers felt that a sanity check in the domain of mood
detection via Twitter was necessary. By making use of lists of
words that are correlated with the sentiments of joy, fear, anger
and sadness, they observed that periodic events such as Christmas,
Valentine's Day and Halloween evoke the same response in the
population, year after year.
The main part of the analysis focused on a visible change-point
occurring in October 2010, when the government announced cuts to
public spending, testing its statistical significance. The study
shows that the change point is real, and that its effects can still
be observed. In other words, public mood has still not recovered
from that announcement.
Forecasting the riots?
The same testing technique shows another important period, that
of summer 2011, when riots broke out in various UK cities, leading
to looting and even loss of life. The researchers method seems to
suggest that some increase in public anger preceded, and not
followed, these events, although the significance of this finding
is a matter for social scientists to discuss.
Future work will include the comparison with social media
content with traditional media content, as well as the comparison
of both with traditional opinion polls methods.
It is important to remark that the real-time detection of social
trends via the analysis of social media content, presents various
possible limitations. Social media analysis can only be
accomplished with text mining technologies, which are less accurate
than human assessment, but can be applied to vast amounts of data.
Also the population that is assessed is necessarily that of Twitter
users, which is a biased subsample of the general population.
Particular care needs to be paid when extracting information but
also when reporting it.