Brits Turn to Twitter to Gauge National Mood


A team of Loughborough University researchers has developed software designed to answer one simple question: How are the British feeling today?

The program is called EMOTIVE -- an acronym for Extracting the Meaning of Terse Information in a Geo-Visualisation of Emotion. EMOTIVE is a linguistic sentiment analysis tool that scans UK-based Twitter posts at a rate of up to 2,000 Tweets per second. Using a specially developed ontology, EMOTIVE assigns scores to individual Tweets in eight categories, assessing levels of the following emotional states:

  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Shame
  • Surprise

In addition to different parts of speech and sentence, EMOTIVE recognizes and understands hashtags and emoticons -- going beyond basic linguistic sentiment analysis.

Of course, accurately detecting and analyzing a person's mood based on their social media posts is nothing new. Researchers have done it many times before, demonstrating that a social media user's content can be used to predict not just a wide variety of emotions, but also facts about the user's identity -- such as gender, location, political affiliation, and other demographic factors.

Linguistic sentiment analysis of Tweets has also been used to accurately predict all sorts of future behavior in other contexts, ranging from movie box office receipts to election outcomes. Most notably (and, perhaps, commonly), it has long been employed to successfully predict stock market behavior.

In a particularly compelling example, computer scientists discovered in 2010 that the level of "calm" detected in Tweets via linguistic sentiment analysis could predict the stock market with 87.6 percent accuracy as many as six days in advance. This research formed the basis of the trading strategy used by Derwent Capital Markets, a hedge fund that invested clients' money solely based on Tweets.

Although Derwent's fund was short-lived and did not yield the 15 percent to 20 percent returns that it boasted that it would, it was still deemed a success. The fund's reported 1.86 percent return outperformed both the overall market and the average hedge fund.

Despite its potentially broad range of applications, EMOTIVE, too, seems to have a specific purpose in mind. Researchers on the EMOTIVE project say that the software will be able to help law enforcement geographically track potential criminal activity and public safety threats. Additionally, they posit that the British government will be able to use EMOTIVE to make policy decisions on national security matters.

2011 British riots
2011 British riots

Indeed, the project is partly funded by the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, a Ministry of Defence agency. It is, presumably, what the British government hopes is an answer to its prayers since the 2011 England Riots. At the time, the government was beside itself over how social media played into the equation. Rioters had used Twitter and other social networks to incite, plan, and brag about looting and other illegal activities. (It's possible they even used an app to escape police crowd control tactics.)

Prime Minister David Cameron had even suggested shutting down social media in response to future demonstrations of civic unrest. With EMOTIVE, however, it appears the British government's goal is to work with social media to stay a step ahead of criminals.

It is unclear to what extent each of the eight emotional factors EMOTIVE measures will be helpful in predicting events. The project remains a work in progress. The EMOTIVE team's next step is a prototype that the will purportedly automatically detect events while gleaning even more information from Tweets.

Think EMOTIVE has potential? Share your thoughts below.

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Joe Stanganelli, Attorney & Marketer

Joe Stanganelli is founder and principal of Beacon Hill Law, a Boston-based general practice law firm.  His expertise on legal topics has been sought for several major publications, including U.S. News and World Report and Personal Real Estate Investor Magazine. 

Joe is also a communications consultant.  He has been working with social media for many years -- even in the days of local BBSs (one of which he served as Co-System Operator for), well before the term "social media" was invented.

From 2003 to 2005, Joe ran Grandpa George Productions, a New England entertainment and media production company. He has also worked as a professional actor, director, and producer.  Additionally, Joe is a produced playwright.

When he's not lawyering, marketing, or social-media-ing, Joe writes scripts, songs, and stories.

He also finds time to lose at bridge a couple of times a month.

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Predictive Value?
  • 9/16/2013 9:44:42 AM
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I'm a bit dubious when various experts claim to have come up with ways to predict otherwise unpredictable events or human behavior. Predicting the stock market, of course always gets one's attention. There have been tens of thousands of those claims. But, in reality it's easy to pick and choose what one's data seems to correlate with. But correlation doesn't neessarily mean it's predicting anything more than a random chance that the data seems to match up. A broken clock is correct twice a day.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/16/2013 12:52:56 PM
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Agreed. When two events occur in succession, it does not necessarily make the events causal. And is a broken clock correct twice a day? Hahaha, that got me thinking.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/26/2013 10:31:19 PM
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You are right that it cant predict the future, but this could be useful. If this new idea can prevent one dangerous event-- is it really useless?

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/17/2013 9:30:37 AM
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I agree I am also very skeptical about this and its real value. I just think we are not that easily predicted.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/17/2013 9:53:37 AM
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I'm wondering how accurate this could be as well.  I do think it could be used for specific issues and if someone wants to look at multiple issues and make a call on the mood of the nation I don't see that being much different than a phone survey for example.  I do see a value in looking at individual's social media activity though especially teens since behavior changes can signal bigger issues like the potential to commit suicide.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/17/2013 11:41:25 AM
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So much of what I see taking place on Twitter relates to marketing of brands, companies, events, and so on so it's difficult for me to think of Twitter as a real source of information about individuals themselves. I know it exists, and is worth playing around with from an analytics/sentiment perspective, but I'm not sure how seriously we can take any of those activities at this point. And will all this effort be for naught, anyways, when the next big social phenomenon comes into play and people stop tweeting so much? Hopefully not!

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/18/2013 7:28:21 AM
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I think that if the systems and software are built correctly then it won't matter what the next social media toy is it will just be a matter of scraping data from that source instead of Twitter.  I think that behaviors will be more important to track on social media sites than the words used.  A flurry of activity near the launch of a new product might signify a sponsored account.  A consistent stream of activity that references multiple sources might be more likely to be a fan/hobbyist. 

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/18/2013 11:57:43 AM
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SaneIT -- I hadn't thought about that, but you make an excellent point. So companies need to be certain that the social media analytics platform they select will be easily upgradable to support whatever comes next, and can analyze not only by sentiment but behavior. 

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/19/2013 9:00:32 AM
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I know that developers have pet projects and they may love one social media outlet but if they want to stay in business they need to be thinking ahead to the next big wave.   If Facebook dies in two years where does that leave their project that can only pull data from Facebook?  The framework should be flexible enough that they can pull data in from anywhere and store it accordingly.  Maybe the amount of data you can collect will change from platform to platform but the same basic data should be there.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/19/2013 10:05:38 AM
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I sure wouldn't want to be the developer that invests years working with data from Facebook only to be sideswiped with the arrival of a new social hot spot and no way to integrate it into the analytics platform!

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/19/2013 12:31:00 PM
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Beth, as far as companies are concerned that evaluate their image at social networks, most don't rely on a particular platform when generating analytics as in they look at Google+,Twitter,etc. as well in addition to Facebook. But if 95% of your users are active users on Facebook then you got to stick to a particular social network even if it carries a risk of getting wiped out in few years.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/19/2013 3:06:07 PM
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So you're finding that companies use disparate social media analytics tools rather than an integrated platform like one from Sysomos or Radian6?

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/24/2013 4:23:00 AM
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Beth, well the companies I have come across use disparate tools and there is no doubt that these methods are less organized hence less effective compared to the initiatives by Salesforce and Sysomos that you mentioned. An integrated platform is esp great for FMCGs and Electronic device manufacturers because people talk a lot about these products on social networks and it is difficult for the social media coordination function of the company to bring all these things in its net if it uses disparate tools.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/24/2013 10:38:14 AM
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It's always a challenge moving from piecemeal solutions to integrated platforms, whether its for social media analytics or any other business/IT function. But I'd have to think that integration deserves serious consideration given the challenges of monitoring so many social sites.

Speedy call to action
  • 9/16/2013 8:22:31 PM
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Joe, it seems so much of the UK government's success in using EMOTIVE would be not only in the ability to predict behavior but to head off such behavior -- all in real time or near to it as possible. Would you say that's a fair assessment? And, if so, how realistic is it?

Re: Speedy call to action
  • 9/23/2013 9:50:14 PM
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..

 

Beth writes


 

... it seems so much of the UK government's success in using EMOTIVE would be not only in the ability to predict behavior but to head off such behavior -- all in real time or near to it as possible. 


 

Maybe the Ministry of Defence is excited about this, but I tend to be skeptical about the ability to head off criminal activity ... or mass popular unrest.

Makes me wonder if this use of robots to try to understand Twitter traffic will result in cases simlar to what happened to that UK couple arrested and interrogated, then expelled from the US, for texting something like "We're gonna destroy LA!" ... meaning, "We're gonna party so hard, LA will never be the same!"

And 8 categories of emotion? What happened to Arrogance? Hubris? The 7 Deadly Sins?

 

Re: Speedy call to action
  • 9/24/2013 10:40:40 AM
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So you vote for unrealistic. Me too -- at least at this point. I think there's still a lot of work to be done in this area.

Freedom of speech
  • 9/18/2013 7:47:38 AM
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" Researchers on the EMOTIVE project say that the software will be able to help law enforcement geographically track potential criminal activity and public safety threats"----- That may violate people's freedom of speech. Also, I wonder how many criminals would talk about their "potential" criminal activities on Twitter before commiting them.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/18/2013 12:08:08 PM
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Hospice, can you explain further? How might law enforcement's use of tweet analysis potentially violate freedom of speech? I'm not sure I follow.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/18/2013 12:49:45 PM
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@Beth,

My concern is that people will fear to express their mind on Twitter as their message (wording) might be misunderstood. Even "criminally-intented expressions" might be misinterpreted when taken out of context. - And computers don't understand much about "context". I am just questioning the efficiency/accuracy of the system to track potential criminals just based on what they say on Twitter. I hope I make sense now!

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/18/2013 1:23:24 PM
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I don't see it as an infringement on free speech, but I do agree that randomly checking for potentially criminal intent could be a waste of time. Better to turn to the social sites once a perpetrator or suspect is identified and see if that person has social accounts and, if so, what he or she is saying on them.

 

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/18/2013 1:32:16 PM
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@Beth,

"I don't see it as an infringement on free speech"

I get you! Thanks!

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/19/2013 12:25:18 PM
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Beth, rebels against the government or a religious sect can be caught through social networks if they are spreading violence. In other criminal cases, the criminal would prefer to remain silent hence social networks might not be of much help.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/19/2013 3:08:38 PM
NO RATINGS

I think sometimes we give the criminally intent more credit than they're do. If I were a law enforcement officer with a suspect in mind, I'd check out his or her social chatter. You never know what might slip out. Heck, bragging about a crime wouldn't even surprise me, at least among the less sophisticated crooks!

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/24/2013 5:32:06 AM
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Beth, I would be really surprised if even the less sophisticated crooks disclosed their criminal achievements on social networks with their actual ID through which their information and contact details can further be extracted and they get nearer to being caught.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/24/2013 10:35:49 AM
NO RATINGS

Perhaps they wouldn't do so explicitly. But what of the suspect who says he just gave his girlfriend a diamond necklace or one who posts whereabouts that contradict an alibi? Criminals get caught because they slip up, and social postings give them plenty of opportunity to do that.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/26/2013 11:50:42 AM
NO RATINGS

Beth

" Criminals get caught because they slip up, and social postings give them plenty of opportunity to do that."

 Agreed. I hope within few years' time, our law enforcement agencies start taking social platforms that seriously so as to catch criminals over it. Certainly we have cells for cyber crimes but catching criminals on cyber platforms is still a new concept.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/20/2013 7:13:56 AM
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A few years ago I might have agreed that in criminal cases that people would prefer to stay silent but then I ran across a site that let you search public FB pages for strings of text.  You'd be amazed how many people telegraph that they are about to commit petty crimes.  Now bigger things like embezzling a few million dollars from a company retirement fund probably won't show up on a social media site but I did see various things that I'm sure a local police department would like to have a heads up on, like someone bragging about what they just shoplifted for example.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/24/2013 5:23:21 AM
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SaneIT

But in the scenarios that you are mentioning, aren't the criminals posting messages from anonymous IDs ? If yes, then it is difficult to catch criminals from there.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/24/2013 7:12:39 AM
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No, I'm referring to people posting really dumb things from their personal accounts complete with profile photos.  Some people just aren't very bright and they don't think they will be caught.

Restricting expression of anger
  • 9/19/2013 12:16:07 PM
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Social media may be a great way to take people along their relationships and stay in touch with ones whom they really don't get to meet so often but it can be disastrous if people want it to use that way. If people start expressing what they really feel when they are angry at a particular group of people then it can result in riots in the outside world if the situation goes to extreme. So I support if a government, in prediction to a civil unrest, blocks the social media networks for few days.

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