Twitter Suggests Scotland Is Going Solo
Opinion polls remain inconclusive as to whether Scotland will decide to secede tomorrow, as the final hours tick by before a referendum. Still, an analysis of Twitter messages by academics at Oxford University has shed a little more light, suggesting that the momentum is with those who favor independence.
Karo Moilanen, a visiting academic at the university, has dissected more than 1 million tweets in the past month. The "yes" campaign has generated more than 782,000 missives, compared with 341,000 for those backing the "no" movement. Both camps saw a dive in activity yesterday, though those backing the Scottish nationalists were still twice as active as the unionists:
Moreover, Moilanen's software, called TheySay, parses the sentiments in messages using language algorithms. The results suggest those who would go it alone are more upbeat in their tweeting than their unionist opponents:
There are two potential conclusions. Firstly, as I wrote on Sept. 15,the framing of the referendum question -- "Should Scotland be an independent country?" -- skews toward people's psychological bias to accentuate the positive rather than the negative. Tweeting happy "yes" thoughts comes more naturally to us than typing glum "no" opinions. According to Moilanen:
Tweets about the NO campaign express more anger, fear, agitation, and sadness. Tweets about the YES campaign are evidently more confident and forward-looking.
Secondly, the eligibility of 16- and 17-year olds living in Scotland may skew the Twitter analysis, since the young are more likely to be using social media than their elders.
Still, that distortion may also be important to the vote. The most recent opinion polls show the "no" campaign leading with about 52 percent, compared with 48 percent for the "yes" group when undecided voters are excluded. That makes the vote too close to call given the margins of error involved and the inherent imprecision of opinion polling. So the excitement of those young Twitter users, voting for the first time, may just determine the fates of both Scotland and the U.K.
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