Anger Spreads Faster than Happiness on Social Media
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” according to Winston Churchill, and something similar may be true of anger and happiness -- at least on Chinese social media sites. That’s according to a new study by researchers at Beihang University, titled “Anger is More Influential Than Joy: Sentiment Correlation on Weibo.”
The research team categorized around 70 million posts from 200,000 users on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, according to sentiment, including anger, joy, sadness, and disgust. Their analysis showed that Weibo users who post angry sentiments are more likely to be connected to other Weibo users who post angry sentiments -- making anger an “assortative” factor in the organization of online networks. The researchers also found that angry Weibo users are more likely to propagate angry sentiments via their networks.
Meanwhile users posting happy, sad, or disgusted sentiments were less likely to be correlated with each other and less likely to propagate each other’s sentiments across their networks, making these emotions relatively less “assortative” than anger, although they are still “assortative” to some degree. Taken together, these dynamics mean that posts containing angry sentiments spread more broadly and quickly than posts containing sentiments of joy, sadness, or disgust.
While this study may be of mostly academic interest in the U.S., there’s good reason for the Chinese government to focus on this issue, as Weibo and other social sites have become key platforms for ordinary Chinese to question authority and express dissent.
Indeed, in their discussion the study authors note the prominence of “domestic social problems like food security, government bribery and demolition for resettlement” in the negative sentiments they tracked online: “These events reflect that people living in China are dissatisfied about some aspects of the current society and this type of event can spread quickly as the users want to show their sympathy to the victims by retweeting tweets and criticizing the criminals or the government.” International relations are another prominent cause of angry sentiment, as Chinese nationalists express anger about what they consider to be examples of disrespect for China’s interests.
Not coincidentally, China’s highest court and chief prosecutor recently handed down new rules regulating social media, stating that anyone who posts “online rumors” which are then viewed by over 5,000 Internet users, or re-posted over 500 times, can be charged with defamation and sentenced to up to three years in jail. Chinese bloggers were quick to point out that the rules could be used to suppress, for example, speculative discussion about official corruption -- which, in the absence of definitive proof, could be considered “rumor-mongering.”