Scientists prove the existence of the Internet Hate Machine

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If you’ve been on the Internet for more than a day, you probably noticed it’s a bit… angry. All the time. On its best days there’s a thin layer of snark coating the famed series of tubes. On its worst days, well, the Internet tries to get someone fired for giving a game a 9/10 rating instead of a 10/10 or Anna Gunn has to write a New York Times op-ed about receiving death threats because people hate her Breaking Bad character or a social network identifies the wrong man as a terrorist or…

I could go on.

According to a group of researchers at Beihang University in China, the problem might be intrinsic to the way people interact on the Internet. People are literally making each other angry on a daily basis.

Staring at the monster

As reported in MIT Technology Review, Rui Fan, Jichang Zhao, Yan Chen, and Ke Xu culled data from Weibo—basically China’s version of Twitter. Over the course of six months, the team collected approximately 70 million posts from 200,000 users, then filtered the collection using emoticons. The team separated posts into four emotions: joy, sadness, anger, or disgust. Then they charted how much each emotion spread beyond its originator.

WeiboSource: MIT Technology Review
This graph shows the spread of emotions between Weibo users. Red lines represent anger.

Sadness and disgust are not very influential—at least in China. Weibo users rarely shared (or to use American lexicon, retweeted) depressed or disgusted posts with friends.

Happiness fared a bit better. These posts experienced more activity than sad or disgusted brethren, and people who came into contact with happy posts were more likely to write their own cheerful posts afterward.

But the king of cool? The emotion with the highest Klout score? Our old friend anger. Angry posts have a strong tendency to spread at least three hops (degrees) away from a person’s network. Furthermore, those with angry friends become similarly irritated, write their own angry posts, and spread the cycle.

If these results replicate worldwide and aren’t confined to one Chinese social network, it means the Internet is essentially whipping itself into a frenzy each day simply because a few people woke up in a bad mood.

Something to keep in mind the next time you write up that tweet about how angry you are when you’re late to work: you could be responsible for the entire Internet’s hatred that day.

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