EMOTIVE: Mapping the mood of a nation


If you want to know where all this surveillance is heading, this is an indication: EMOTIVE, Extracting the Meaning of Terse Information in a Geo-Visualisation of Emotion. It’s a computer program designed to sift through tweets, looking for words that indicate emotions, such as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, shame and confusion.

It claims to be a way of mapping mass moods geographically; to detect signs of unrest, anger and fear, and so on. This information is to help police to head off criminal behaviour and national security to nip in the bud signs of insurrection and terrorist activity. The aim is to protect the general public from ‘potentially harmful events’. One of the project’s ‘partners’ is Defence Science & Technology Laboratory.

At the moment, this is confined to the UK, but it can be ramped up to map global moods.

Can anyone identify some problems with this? I can.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m feeling ’emotional’ ‘tweeting’ is among the last things I’m going to be doing—certainly if I know my tweets are being monitored. Being emotional usually involves mammalian company. Unless, I suppose, you’re an information scientist.

Tweets are words and words express what we think, not necessarily how we feel. Tweets are not directed at anyone in our vicinity. They may be a substitute for social interaction. How happy can someone be if they have to tweet about it? I would call that sad. If you’re angry, are you going to tweet about it, or are you going to throw your cell phone in the garbage?

One of their publications sums it up: EMOTIVE Ontology: Extracting fine-grained emotions from terse, informal messages”. They’re not ‘extracting’ them, they’re imputing them by reading meaning into words tapped into a cell phone.

The project also ignores the complex and fluid nature of emotions. Or as Ben-Ze’ev would say, their ‘subtlety’. They are not static and they rarely exist in pure form. They can change in a millisecond. You may as well try to catch a butterfly.

None of these objections will prevent our tweets being monitored and used in evidence against us.

The idea is not new, but in the context of Snowden’s revelations it takes on a more sinister hue.

There is always the fountain pen, letter and stamp.

For further information:

EMOTIVE the web site of the team of researchers at Loughborough University in England. They’re on Twitter too: https://twitter.com/EMOTIVEproject. Check their mood. Why not contact the authorities if you have any concerns?

The Letters Page: A Literary Journal in Letters: by the delightful people at the School of English and the University of Nottingham—just a few miles from Loughborough. This is more like it. Who doesn’t like receiving a letter?

EMOTIVE, “Mapping the Mood of a Nation”

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