Good Friends, Bad News - Affect and Virality in Twitter

Lars Kai Hansen, Adam Arvidsson, Finn Aarup Nielsen, Elanor Colleoni, Michael Etter

AbstractThe link between affect, defined as the capacity for sentimental arousal on the part of a message, and virality, defined as the probability that it be sent along, is of significant theoretical and practical importance, e.g. for viral marketing. A quantitative study of emailing of articles from the NY Times (Berger and Milkman, 2010) finds a strong link between positive affect and virality, and, based on psychological theories it is concluded that this relation is universally valid. The conclusion appears to be in contrast with classic theory of diffusion in news media (Galtung and Ruge, 1965) emphasizing negative affect as promoting propagation. In this paper we explore the apparent paradox in a quantitative analysis of information diffusion on Twitter. Twitter is interesting in this context as it has been shown to present both the characteristics social and news media (Kwak et al., 2010). The basic measure of virality in Twitter is the probability of retweet. Twitter is different from email in that retweeting does not depend on pre-existing social relations, but often occur among strangers, thus in this respect Twitter may be more similar to traditional news media. We therefore hypothesize that negative news content is more likely to be retweeted, while for non-news tweets positive sentiments support virality. To test the hypothesis we analyze three corpora: A complete sample of tweets about the COP15 climate summit, a random sample of tweets, and a general text corpus including news. The latter allows us to train a classifier that can distinguish tweets that carry news and non-news information. We present evidence that negative sentiment enhances virality in the news segment, but not in the non-news segment. We conclude that the relation between affect and virality is more complex than expected based on the findings of Berger and Milkman (2010), in short ’if you want to be cited: Sweet talk your friends or serve bad news to the public’.
KeywordsDigital media, social networks, text analysis, Twitter
TypeConference paper [Submitted]
ConferenceThe 2011 International Workshop on Social Computing, Network, and Services (SocialComNet 2011)
Year2011
Electronic version(s)[pdf]
BibTeX data [bibtex]
IMM Group(s)Intelligent Signal Processing


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