Can social media reveal happiness?

In a remarkably short space of time, the internet has changed how all of us interact with the world. Social media, in particular, has transformed our relationships and even our personalities. It can be no surprise that analysing social media is a fertile and emerging field of research. Technology companies have long used algorithms to track our online behaviour for advertising. Academics are now using big data for social research and to judge how happy we really are.

Dr Justin Thomas, a psychologist at Zayed University and columnist for The National, is studying more than 18 million tweets in English and Arabic to gauge happiness levels of UAE residents. Using a programme, Dr Thomas and Dr Ian Gray, an associate professor also at Zayed University, are able to use big data to determine the happiest times of the week and other patterns that shed light on the moods of residents.

This research is still in its infancy but Zayed University is not alone in using big data to see how people feel in their daily lives. Researchers from Havard University and the University of Vermont have developed an algorithm that can identity depressed people based on their Instagram posts. The researchers found that depressed individuals prefer darker colours and hues. Researchers have developed an effective way of using Instagram to identify early signs of depression.

This type of research is all the more relevant based on the popularity of social media usage by young people. Younger generations have the highest levels of social media usage across the world but especially in the Middle East. As governments such as the UAE’s invest more resources and attention into the happiness of its citizens, big data research will be a critical metric for future programmes.

Thanks to the work happening at Zayed University, local researchers can begin beneficial collaborations with other organisations around the world to foster innovation in this emerging field. We have a chance to learn more about society than ever before while carving out a place for ourselves at the forefront of research that will define the globe for generations to come.

Published: September 3, 2016 04:00 AM