Why you need to purge your Twitter feed of angry people

Researchers find that the sentiment of tweets in a users’ feed tends to affect how they themselves tweet

It’s said that your personality is the average of your five closest friends, but when it comes to Twitter, the people you follow determine how you act.

According to researchers at the University of Southern Carolina, Twitter users tend to tweet in line with the emotions expressed by the people they follow. So any angry, hateful or negative Twitter users you follow make you more likely to tweet similar sentiments.

Users who are exposed to a disproportionate number of negative tweets are more likely to post negative messages on the social network, and the effect is even greater with positive tweets, the researchers found, terming the effect “emotional contagion”.

“What you tweet and share on social media outlets matters. Often, you’re not just expressing yourself – you’re influencing others,” said Dr Emilio Ferrara, who led the study.

Researchers monitored 3,800 Twitter users, monitoring feeds for sentiment using an analysis tool called SentiStrength. Among the negative tweets, the most common expressions were anger and fear.

While researchers found that an average feed is made up of 34.4 per cent positive, 48.3 per cent neutral and 17.3 per cent negative tweets, users who posted negative or positive tweets had different mixes of feeds.

Before a negative tweet is posted, a feed tends to be on average 33.3 per cent positive and 21.6 per cent negative – a more negative mix than the average. Before a positive tweet, the opposite is true, with feeds averaging 38.9 per cent positive emotions and 16 per cent negative.

Very few people are not influenced by their Twitter feed at all, with only a fraction seeing less than a fifth of tweets correlated with the sentiment of their feed. Some 20 per cent of users are “highly suscepticle”, meaning more than half of their tweets relate to the sentiment of their feed.

These highly susceptible users are far more likely to be influenced by positive feeds than negative ones, the researchers claimed.

Although the researchers considered other possibilities for correlations between tweets and a user’s feed, such as the tendency to follow other users with similar emotions, they suggested that contagion could be a contributor.

Facebook found itself in hot water last year after it emerged that it manipulated the news feeds of hundreds of thousands of users to see how it affected their mood.

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