We all like to throw out pseudoscientific forecasts on the future of the human race in the digital era. Is the Internet making us lazy? Is it making us forgetful? Is it killing our attention spans? (You know what’s hard? Committing yourself to a comprehensive analysis of the complex cultural and economic factors that have combined to produce these social problems—OF WHICH the Internet is also a product. You know what’s easy? Blaming the Internet.)
When you log off for the night, you might not see a noticeable difference in your memory or lifespan, but you might notice a difference in your mood. Specifically—you’re really, really mad all of a sudden.
A team of researchers in China found that anger actually spreads among Internet users much more quickly and broadly than any other emotion.
The researchers at Beihang University in Beijing, China looked specifically at Weibo, a Twitter-like service that has attracted 500 million+ users in the four years since its launch. By comparison, Twitter has some 200 million users. Weibo users publish over 100 million tweets per day.
The team looked at connected users (those who actually interact, send messages to one another, and retweet each other’s messages) and the emotional nuances of their tweets based on keywords and emoticons. The researchers analyzed 70 million tweets from 200,000 users over the course of six months in 2010 to see how joy, sadness, anger, and disgust rippled through the social networking site.
What they found was fairly surprising: turns out, sadness and disgust aren’t really infectious. Joy is somewhat more contagious. But you know what’s really contagious? Rage. The team found that angry tweets spread at an average rate of three degrees or “hops” from the original user.
What are people so angry about? The report’s authors say two distinct kinds of events rile Web users up the most: domestic social problems and diplomatic issues.
Domestic social problems include things like food security, government corruption, and demolition for resettlement. For example, in 2010 there was an outbreak of rhabdomyolysis, which is marked by the degeneration of muscle tissue. Crayfish turned out to be the culprit—specifically, crayfish that were treated with a “shrimp washing powder” that was, in fact, a type of industrial acid.
Diplomatic issues tend to include things like conflicts between China and foreign countries. For example, users got particularly enraged over a military exercise that the U.S. and South Korea conducted in the Yellow Sea, just east of China, in 2010.
Researchers were surprised to see that not only are sadness and disgust less likely to spread between social media users, but that joy is less infectious than rage.
The researchers theorize that anger spread through social ties “could boost the spread of the corresponding news and speed up the formation of public opinion and collective behavior. This can explain why the events related to social problems propagate extremely fast in Weibo.”
Image source: collapseboard.com