Is There a Cost to Understanding Ourselves?
OUR EMOTIONS ARE BEING STUDIED THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA WORLDWIDE: The World Happiness Report 2022
For the past 10 years, there has been a measurement worldwide of happiness. When you ask a parent, ‘what do you want for your children?' most people respond with one word….happiness.
The 2022 World Happiness Report has an interesting study on emotions.
Social media continuously captures communication between millions of individuals and large groups over long periods of time. Data from these platforms provide new opportunities to trace emotions and well-being of individuals and societies at new scales and resolutions. This has motivated researchers to use social media data to investigate questions around mental health, emotional well-being, anxiety, collective emotions, or emotion regulation.
So we are being studied and data is being analyzed from our social media posts and interactions. This is now common knowledge that we are the product and nothing is free meaning our use of social media comes with a cost. I understand the concept of doing things for the ‘greater good.’ We are all part of a community, and our decisions and actions affect one another. I also share concerns of many regarding privacy. The best way to navigate social media is to assume we are being watched, because we are, and our very emotions are being uploaded into a cloud of research.
In three studies, Artificial intelligence (AI) was utilized to identify emotions through the words used. Posts using words of , ‘isolation,’ signify sadness. AI simply analyzed what words were used, aligning them with emotions with calculations of percentages of words signifying emotions in each post. There were three case studies in the UK and Austria looking at data from weekly and daily frequency on Twitter beginning June 2019. Researchers calculated data from the text of 1.54 billion tweets on Twitter in the UK alone. Findings are interesting. Users tend to comfort others and bond with positive words more so than when expressing their own emotions. Findings in this study showed women had a greater increase in sadness and anxiety during COVID19, more so than men, although both genders were negatively affected.
There were multiple studies worldwide during the first 5 weeks of the COVID19 lockdown, analyzing 8 billion tweets:
During the first 5 weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, we analyzed data on 8.3 billion public tweets in six languages, (English, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch and French) from 18 countries. These countries included ten from Western Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) four from Latin America (Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru) and four other western industrial countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States). We focused on evolutions of anxiety, anger, sadness and positive emotions, because we expected the pandemic events to impact these emotions, and because all of them may be relevant to the management of a pandemic outbreak. Anxiety, for instance, develops when people lack clear explanations and feel unable to cope with a threat, and impacts risk perception, active information seeking, and compliance with recommendations. What’s interesting is there was a positive correlation between anxiety and an increase in COVID cases in their area, as well as restrictions imposed in their community.
Emotions are being tracked across the world, especially during crises, when survey data is not available.
Overall results show us:
Anxiety gradually relaxed once measures had been implemented, suggesting that people habituated to the new circumstances or felt reassured by their governments' actions. Anger expressions dropped as discourse on social media shifted away from politically polarized discussions and focused on COVID-19. Sadness seemed more strongly associated with effects of social distancing measures on people's personal lives, and only linked to deaths by COVID-19 as these became more prevalent.
Throughout this report on the case studies on emotions through social media posts, the authors were possibly attempting to justify this method of research. There is the price we are paying for lack of privacy with the implementation of AI methods to gather data. What is the payoff? The authors note implications for future implementation of these methods to predict outcomes with “suicide hotline calls, hospital visits, police calls, or overdose rates.”
There is a price to understanding ourselves and what makes us happy. We can all speak rationally, sounding good to others. Are we living and believing our own words? Do we understand ourselves? How well can we understand others, without our own self-awareness?
This is a summary of a few key points of this study on emotions in the World Happiness Report. To read the report in full go HERE.