Effects of the Recession on Public Mood in the UK
Large scale analysis of social media content allows for realtime discovery of macro-scale patterns in public opinion andsentiment. In this paper we analyse a collection of 484 mil-lion tweets generated by more than 9.8 million users from theUnited Kingdom over the past 31 months, a period markedby economic downturn and some social tensions. Our ﬁnd-ings, besides corroborating our choice of method for the de-tection of public mood, also present intriguing patterns thatcan be explained in terms of events and social changes. Onthe one hand, the time series we obtain show that periodicevents such as Christmas and Halloween evoke similar moodpatterns every year. On the other hand, we see that a sig-niﬁcant increase in negative mood indicators coincide withthe announcement of the cuts to public spending by the gov-ernment, and that this eﬀect is still lasting. We also detectevents such as the riots of summer 2011, as well as a pos-sible calming eﬀect coinciding with the run up to the royalwedding.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
]: Natural Language Process-ing—
; G.3 [
Probability and Statistics
]: Sta-tistical Computing; I.5.4 [
; J.4 [
Social and Behavioral Sci-ences
Event Detection, Mood Analysis, Sentiment Analysis, SocialMedia, Twitter
Social media allows for the easy gathering of large amountsof data generated by the public while communicating witheach other. This can give social scientists – among others – atool to access public opinion and public sentiment, a task sofar accomplished only by opinion polls. Twitter in particulargives researchers access to real-time data that is suitable forthe analysis of public sentiment on a large scale. This type
Copyright is held by the International World Wide Web Conference Com-mittee (IW3C2). Distribution of these papers is limited to classroom use,and personal use by others.
WWW 2012 Companion
, April 16–20, 2012, Lyon, France.ACM 978-1-4503-1230-1/12/04.
of analysis is of interest because it avoids self-reporting andopinion-polling, and therefore opens the possibility to accessmuch larger populations. On the ﬂip side, this can only beaccomplished with text mining technologies. We make useof standard tools for mood detection  and we apply themto a dataset of 484,033,446 tweets collected from July 2009to January 2012 in the United Kingdom. This period hasbeen marked by protracted economic downturn, and somesocial tensions.Our goal was to see if the eﬀects of social events can beseen in the contents of Twitter, and to speculate if some of them could even be predicted. The ﬁrst part of our analysisprovides a sanity check, in that it corroborates our assump-tion that word-counting methods can provide a reasonableapproach to sentiment or mood analysis. While this ap-proach is standard in many applications [3, 4], we felt thata sanity check in the domain of mood detection via Twit-ter was necessary. By making use of lists of words thatare correlated with the sentiments of Joy, Fear, Anger andSadness , we observe that periodic events such as Christ-mas, Valentine and Halloween evoke the same response inthe population, year after year.The second part of the analysis focuses on a visible change-point occurring in October 2010, when the government an-nounced cuts to public spending, testing its statistical signif-icance. We can show that the change point is real, and thatits eﬀects can still be observed. In other words, public moodstill has not recovered from that announcement. The sametesting technique shows another important period, that of Summer 2011, when riots broke out in various UK cities,leading to looting and even loss of life. Our method seemsto suggest that an increase in public anger preceded – andnot followed – those events. While we leave the interpreta-tion of these ﬁndings to social scientists, we also observe howthe period preceding the royal wedding seems to be markedby a lowered incidence of anger and fear, which start risingsoon after that. Of course, other events also happened inearly May 2011, so they may also be responsible for thatincrease.A description of our data set can be found in Section 2.Section 3 details the occurrence of periodic events, with thedetection of signiﬁcant events covered in Section 4. Finally,we conclude the paper in Section 5.
2. DESCRIPTION OF THE DATA
Simple in concept, Twitter provides users with a platformon which they can publish brief, textual communicationsof up to 140 characters that are publicly available and thus