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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Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/26/2013 10:31:19 PM

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: Freedom of speech
  • 9/26/2013 11:50:42 AM


" 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: Speedy call to action
  • 9/24/2013 10:40:40 AM

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.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/24/2013 10:38:14 AM

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.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/24/2013 10:35:49 AM

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
  • 9/24/2013 7:12:39 AM

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.

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/24/2013 5:32:06 AM

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 5:23:21 AM


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: Predictive Value?
  • 9/24/2013 4:23:00 AM

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



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?


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