August 24, 2012
Data Mining Venture Tracks American F-Bombs Across Twitter
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Social media is all the rage. People of all ages, professions and cultures are using Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Wordpress, just to name a few. We talk about our cats, our jobs, our pet peeves and our family. We talk about everything, it seems. But the way we talk has gotten some attention lately.
They scanned Twitter every hour, every day, for 462 distinct locations across the nation, between June 20 — July 1 and July 14 - 24, 2012, looking for particular phrases. Then they created a dynamic heatmap to show the geographic density of those phrases throughout each day of their date ranges.
Oh, yeah, I still haven't told you the phrases, right? One was "Good Morning" and the other was "F&ck you." Bet you can't guess which one made the news?
Watching the country light up in different areas with green and red lights for the concentrations of F-bombs being dropped is fascinating. What it isn't, however, is deep scientific analysis.
The high concentrations of cursing falls out almost exactly the way you think it would, in areas with high populations. Southern California, Texas and the densely populated northeastern cities shine on this particular map. Therefore, the maps are more charts of population density than per capita rudeness.
Now, to give the devil his due. Although "Good Morning" isn't nearly as much fun to say, or as prevalent on the maps, it does show up rather heavily in certain parts of the country. Georgia, for example, seems to be much better behaved than Southern California for instance.
What the maps are, and what it seems Vertaline meant them to be, is an illustration of the power of the internet by combining data mining, social media, and Google Maps API to give us little snapshots of ourselves as a nation. They could have chosen words and phrases with some social significance like "Obamacare" or "Romney" or "Curiosity Rover" and created something really revealing about the national conversation. These maps, however, do one thing really well. They help us transform our imagined communities into visual ones.
Imagined communities are not a new concept. The idea has been around since the mid-80's when it was coined by Benedict Anderson. Anderson's theory was of a nation being a social construct, imagined by the people who perceive themselves to be part of the group. That's especially true of online communities. If you spend any time at all using social media or chatting, you will find yourself part of one those imagined communities.
Apparently, all our communities like to cuss. Could there be a reason?
Richard Stephens, of Keele University's School of Psychology certainly thinks so. In 2011, he published a study in The Journal of Pain, which confirmed that swearing acts as pain relief. Stephens found that swearing a few times a day doubled the time someone could withstand the "ice-water challenge," — how long they could hold their hands in a container full of ice-water.
There's a diminishing law of returns, though. Stephens found that the more a person swears in their normal daily lives, the less the fun words help with pain relief. Those who admitted to chain swearing — up to 60 expletives a day — did not show any benefit from cursing while undergoing the ice water challenge.
The science is pretty basic. Swearing elicits an emotional response leading to "stress-induced analgesia," also known as the fight or flight response, along with a surge of adrenaline.
"It would be silly to advocate swearing on the National Health Service," Stephens told Rob Sharp of The Independent, "But swearing seems to activate parts of the brain that are more associated with emotions. In the context of pain, swearing appears to serve as a simple form of emotional self-management. Whether swearing has beneficial effects in other contexts is something we would like to explore further."
So Twitter fans, don't let Vertaline's maps embarrass you. Keep dropping those pain-relieving F-bombs.