Everyone on Twitter Is Increasingly Depressed

Illustration for article titled Everyone on Twitter Is Increasingly Depressed

"It appears that happiness is going down," says a University of Vermont researcher and head of a new study on wellbeing. The proof? Twitter, of course. Millions of users point to a global depression of an entirely non-monetary kind.

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The team took 46 billion tweeted words across three years, and had users of Amazon's Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing machine to assign them happiness values—poison is unhappy, cake is happy, etc. These were then averaged and their frequency plotted, allowing researchers to calculate a rough global mood. From the graph above, you can see it's not a major drop, but overall, we're getting unhappier. Whether that means we as in everyone or we as in the tweeting populace is up in the air. Still, the UVM team feels confident enough to deem their Twitter lens a proper hedonometer—gauge of happiness—and extrapolate outwards.

Is Mechanical Turk's drone army a fair judge of verbal quality? Is Twitter the best way to seriously tap a person's thoughts? So much of what flows through Twitter has nothing to do with our true emotions, I'd guess—retweets are often not endorsements, and the playful or insincere prevails. The question, then, is whether we'll open up about our feelings through Twitter—an entirely public venue that most people would agree isn't really right for throwing your sorrows around—or whether our subconscious misery is just seeping out. I tend to talk about how crushingly unhappy I am on Facebook—you? [UVM via Verge]

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DISCUSSION

This study seems seriously flawed in my estimation. Just because someone tweeted a particular word doesn't really say anything about the person's emotions. You would have to know the intent behind the tweet, which is pretty much unknowable. Also, what about retweets or quoting other people or tweeting sarcastically? These are all things that will skew the results and I'm sure no one tweets sarcastically.

If anything, this seems like an exercise in deciding what we think certain words mean. The bumps on Valentine's day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas lead me to believe the researchers placed high happiness values on not only those day's names but also words like "love", "family", and "presents". A different group of researchers could probably come up with a very different result.