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.

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Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/20/2013 7:13:56 AM

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
  • 9/19/2013 3:08:38 PM

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: Predictive Value?
  • 9/19/2013 3:06:07 PM

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?
  • 9/19/2013 12:31:00 PM

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: Freedom of speech
  • 9/19/2013 12:25:18 PM

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.

Restricting expression of anger
  • 9/19/2013 12:16:07 PM

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.

Re: Predictive Value?
  • 9/19/2013 10:05:38 AM

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 9:00:32 AM

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: Freedom of speech
  • 9/18/2013 1:32:16 PM


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

I get you! Thanks!

Re: Freedom of speech
  • 9/18/2013 1:23:24 PM

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.


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