A tool that analyzes tweets and a study by researchers at the University of Chicago suggests that we are living in historically unhappy times .
Researchers described the two weeks after May 26 as the ‘saddest’ on Twitter.
Chris Danforth and Peter Dodds, both mathematicians at the University of Vermont at Burlington, track Twitter’s relative happiness or sadness in several different languages using a tool called a hedonometer .
Developed in 2008, the tool analyzes 10% of randomly sampled tweets in a given language every day. Compare the words in the tweets against a database of more than 10,000 words that a group of 50 people rated on a scale from happy (9) to sad (1), according to the tool’s website .
Researchers noticed a large sustained drop in happiness on English-language Twitter in mid-March, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to intensify in the United States. Then, on May 25, Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd , sparking protests against police brutality across states and sparking a flurry of activism and anger online.
In the days that followed, the hedonometer recorded its most negative reading – the ‘saddest day in Twitter history,’ the researchers claimed in a tweet:
A new all-time low for the Hedonometer, as happiness levels continue to drop in the days after George Floyd’s murder. Lower than the shock of the coronavirus pandemic. Lower than the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017. pic.twitter.com/ 39fEgce4cu
– hedonometer (@hedonometer) May 30, 2020
A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that about 22% of American adults use Twitter . But the hedonometer results align with other studies on the well-being of Americans over time, including recently published data from the NORC COVID Response Tracking Study at the University of Chicago. A survey of 2,279 adults in early May 2020 found that Americans today are the unhappiest in 50 years.
Only 14% of Americans say they are ‘very happy’, compared to 31% of Americans who described themselves as such in 2018. The percentage of ‘very happy’ people has never dropped below 29 % since NORC began conducting these surveys in 1972 .