Real-time Twitter analysis is being used to map the world’s emotions, according to Sydney researchers who have already seen noticeable changes in the national mood since the federal budget was announced.
The CSIRO and the Black Dog Institute have been able to access 10 per cent of the world’s tweets in just four seconds through a partnership with Amazon, and are now trying to figure out the best way to use the social media site to map – and eventually help – the globe’s mental health.
And while early research from the project has shown Australians and New Zealanders appear to be among the happiest in the world – with the most expressions of anger coming from countries in the Americas – on budget night there was a notable difference in the national mood.
“There was a lot of anger out there about the budget, and it took a long time for that emotional response to dissipate,” Black Dog executive director Helen Christensen said. “We got these moments where the whole nation was angry.”
On Monday a Fairfax Media poll showed an unprecedented negative response to the new federal budget, with the majority of voters saying for the first time in eight years that they thought it was an unfair budget.
The proportion of people who were dissatisfied with the budget and thought it would be bad for Australia were also at record highs.
Professor Christensen said her research team’s aim was eventually to develop a system where Twitter word analysis could be used to help people in moments of crisis.
“If we can validate it, learn its weaknesses and its strengths, we may be able to predict events when they are happening, know when traumas are happening, or drill down to look for particular events in particular communities,” she said.
However, she acknowledged it was not yet clear how useful the technology would be, given it only represented a limited section of the population.
“It’s still really important because it’s public, and we can’t get that kind of information from Facebook because it’s private,” she said. “With technology you plan on the run, and you have got no choice but to continue doing it until we can find out how useful it will be.”
“If we want to do larger and bigger things, to change the health of the nation, we have to start investigating these technologies and looking at what they mean.”
The tool to collect and process the tweets was developed by Amazon Web Services, while the CSIRO helps analyse up to 32,000 tweets per minute, analysing their language and mapping them according to their emotion.
This article first appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 May, 2014.