Reading a Region’s Emotions With Twitter

May 23, 2014 | Andy Cush

Australia’s national science agency developed a tool that aims to map a region’s emotional landscape by pulling geotagged tweets and analyzing their content. If we’re tweeting the words “fuck,” “rain,” and “Memorial Day” frequently here in New York, for instance, it might indicate some state of general dissatisfaction about the coming weekend.

New Scientist explains:

Researchers at Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, and the Black Dog Institute in Sydney, created an emotional vocabulary of about 600 words and confirmed their meaning by crowdsourcing responses from over 1200 people. They built an app that filters tweets by location and linguistically analyses their emotional content. The output is an interactive graph of the target region’s mood. It shows how much each of seven emotions are being expressed in that region.

The question is whether tweets are a good indication of how people are actually feeling. Not everyone is on Twitter, after all, and the emotions we express in tweets might be more polarized than what what’s accurate. How many of these people are actually having suicidal thoughts?

“One would presume that there would be these triggering events that people could observe. Then you’d have a system in place to address these things that are happening. If there’s a storm coming in, you wear your rain coat or batten down the hatches,” James Rosenquist, a Harvard psychologist, told New Scientist. “Using social media you could see an emotional storm.”