Dutch stats agency uses Twitter as social barometer of anxiety, fear

Statistics Netherlands teamed up with the Center for Big Data Statistics for a study into how posts on Twitter can be used to measure the mood in society. This research resulted in the first social tension barometer, which can measure quite specifically the tension or unrest in society, Statistics Netherlands announced on Friday.

For the barometer experts at the statistics offices compiled a list of qualitative words that relate specifically to security or insecurity. These words were then used to map what proportion of daily tweets by Dutch Twitter users are about anxiety or insecurity. That gave the statistics office an insight into tensions, the perception of the terrorism threat and feelings of discomfort within society.

"Social media is ideally suited for measuring sentiment in the Netherlands", Statistics Netherlands writes. "People share their views on social issues, express their feelings and discuss how the Netherlands is going in their eyes."

The barometer found clear peaks in social tension. Social tensions peak on or just after big events. A big peak in tensions in 2010 goes with the disruption of the commemoration of May 4th in Amsterdam. There were also large peaks in tension in the Netherlands after terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th, 2015, and Brussels on March 22nd last year. The MH17 disaster on July 17th, 2014 also resulted in strong feelings of anxiety and insecurity. As did Donald Trump's election as United States president on November 9th last year.

Over all the barometer found that social tension decreased slightly in recent years. Between 2010 and 2013 there was a light increase in social tension, but since then it decreased slowly. 

This barometer was created using public Twitter posts. The tweets were never linked to users - Statistics Netherlands does not know who posted what tweets, only the number of tweets are presented. No selection was made in users and both individuals and businesses are included. The tweets are also not stored in any way.