On May 31, the most commonly used words in English on Twitter included “terrorist,” “violence,” and “racism.” That was about a week after the murder of George Floyd, near start of protests that will continue throughout the summer.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, hedonometer sadness readings have set many records. “There was a whole month this year – and we never see that – there were a whole month of days that the hedonometer read sadder than the day of the Boston Marathon,” said Dr. Danforth. “Our collective attention is very short-lived. It was really remarkable then that the instrument first showed this persistent, depressed mood, and then it got worse when the protests started. “
“These digital footprints are markers we are not aware of, but they leave footprints that tell us how much you avoid things, how much you relate to people,” said Dr. Pennebaker, author of The Secret Life of Pronouns. among other books. “They tell us how you pay attention to the world.”
But, said Dr. Pennebaker, one of the challenges of this line of research is that language itself is always evolving – and algorithms are known for their poor understanding of context.
Take the curse, for example. “Swearing has changed in the last 10 years,” he said, noting that now, far from being an expression of anger, swearing can be either completely casual or even positive, used to emphasize a point or expressed enthusiasm. It updates its electronic dictionaries accordingly.