Covid-19 pandemic and George Floyd's death has made Twitter the 'saddest' in 2020, finds study
The analysis showed that Twitter scored the least on the happiness meter on May 31 — coinciding with widespread protests against police brutality, which followed the killing of George Floyd
The year 2020 was marked by a series of unfortunate events, from Australian bushfires to the Covid-19 pandemic and racial injustice. And in May end, Twitter recorded its saddest period ever. The microblogging platform saw people pouring out their anguish over the state of affairs, according to a tool that measures global happiness.
Mathematicians from the University of Vermont in Burlington designed the tool named hedonometer. Since 2008, it has been tracking and picking 10% of tweets every day. It then rates the tone, listing them as either positive or negative. Their analysis showed that Twitter scored the least on the happiness meter on May 31 — coinciding with widespread protests against police brutality, which followed the killing of George Floyd, a black American.
"Hedonometer is reflecting Twitter's live blog of societal disruption: the pandemic, pervasive structural racism, embarrassingly inadequate leadership, not to mention climate change or economic inequality," Desmond Patton, a social scientist at Columbia University, told Newsweek.
The pandemic has eclipsed conversations on sports, music and live entertainment. "Since the pandemic took hold in March, very few of these leisure activities have been available for discussion on social media," he added. On June 2, "Black Lives Matter" was the fourth most commonly used three-word phrase on Twitter. According to the tool, the year began on a good note, with more positive tweets on New Year's Day. But that changed in March when the coronavirus crisis began spreading like wildfire, and the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic.
On March 12, people began using words such as virus, corona, pandemic, canceled, quarantine, and the like. It was also when authorities suspended the National Basketball Association (NBA) season, actor Tom Hanks tested positive, and stock markets crashed. Compounding these sentiments were George Floyd's killing in May. A day after his murder on May 26, Twitter posts were riddled with keywords such as murder, killed, death, for instance. And five days later, words such as protests, violence, racists, arrested, bullets saw a rise.
"A new all-time low for the hedonometer, as happiness levels continue to drop in the days after George Floyd's murder," according to a tweet from people who manage the tool. They added that the unhappiness levels were lower than a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017. "The drop is dominated by enormous jumps in relatively negative words," the account elaborated. "Drops continuing over many days, which we have now seen for coronavirus and George Floyd's death, are also unprecedented for hedonometer."
"Back in 2013, the Boston Marathon bombing produced the saddest day we had measured. Every day in the month from mid-March to mid-April 2020 was sadder than the bombing, as were the last three weeks," Chris Danforth, who worked on the tool told NewsWeek. Other experts think there is more to the trend than unhappiness. "It’s one thing to tell the world ‘this is the saddest week. But also in the saddest week, you have thousands and thousands of people who are now activated and moving towards equality and social justice," Patton told Nature.