Sep 19, 2013

    Anger is most influential emotion online

    ANGER is the most influential feeling online compared to other emotions, such as joy and sadness, going by a recently released study in China.

    And the situation might not be too different in other societies like that of Singapore, due in part to the nature of social media, said new-media and psychology experts.

    Through analysing user behaviour and posts on Weibo, researchers from Beijing's Beihang University found that angry posts spread more widely on the Twitter-like micro-blogging network.

    A rage-fuelled post would affect other posts that were three degrees removed from it. However, comments with feelings of sadness and disgust had little traction.

    About 70 million posts on Weibo between April and September 2010, as well as 200,000 users, were studied. The research report was submitted last week.

    Researchers identified active users with close connections - those who often re-posted or mentioned each other. The sentiments of the posts were then classified according to four emotions: anger, joy, sadness and disgust.

    Dr Denisa Kera, from the National University of Singapore's department of communications and new media, said that, if the study was replicated in Singapore, the results might be similar. This is due to the inherent nature of social media.

    "When you are online, you have to respond quickly, so there is no moment for reflection," she said, noting that the need for an immediate response may lead to something closer to aggression.

    Ms Pat Law, founder of social- media consultancy GoodStuph, said that, culturally, it is not in many Singaporeans' nature to readily express happiness or affirm other people, and we carry this behaviour online.

    And, while Singaporeans are not confrontational face to face, they may feel more "liberated" online, she said.

    On what might stoke Singaporeans' negative emotions online, Ms Law pointed to topics like cost of living, property issues, and the standard of living.

    In the Chinese study, researchers suggested that angry online sentiment in the country is often spread by social events in China, such as food scandals or diplomatic controversies.

    Psychologist Joel Yang, head of the master of counselling programme at SIM University, said that while anger triggers a greater urge to respond, it is often suppressed because it is stigmatised by society as undesirable.

    "The cloak of anonymity online provides netizens with a 'safe' outlet for this emotion. Socio-culturally, Singapore can arguably be regarded as being, or at least partially being, conservative, like China," he said.

    So, is the online world just a space where anger is fed and bred? Ms Law said the "silent majority" might not be as vocal in the online sphere and their behaviour cannot be captured by the study.