Tweet Emotion: Expression on Twitter

According to a 2007 article published by Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison in the Jounral of Computer-Mediated Communication, a social network is defined as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connection and those made by others within a system.”[1] Fifteen years ago, the website SixDegrees was launched, starting the idea of creating an online social network with user profiles that could connecting with other users over a digital platform; however, no one knew that with the start of social networking sites, technology would progress to the point that it would allow for users to access their profiles and more from basically anywhere at anytime. Social networking has spread like an epidemic, where today checking your online profile on a site has become a daily routine and practice by many. While many people see their online profile and their daily lives as two separate spaces, the truth is that the online profile is a reflection of a person’s thoughts and ideas that are being shared in a globally shared area. The line between online expression and a person’s expression and behaviors has become a blur, and many people lose sight of that line upon logging into their online profile. Posting updates to a profile, whether it is a photo, video, thought, or idea, has in a sense become like an addiction where people often lose themselves when posting material online. In that way, many often upload material that is false or offensive without realizing that the posts can have repercussions that can very easily be spread all over the world with the click of a button. Posting to these sites can be seen as an emotional outlet, but it’s not one that should really be followed.

After 1997, social networking megaliths like Myspace, Facebook, Friendster, LinkedIn, and many more grew to take over the way people communicate and socialize with one another for the future. All of these sites give people the opportunity to go on a certain kind of digital escape from reality to interact within a shared space that spreads all over the world. Profiles with a common format have given users the benefit of viewing a person’s general personality with ease, but common online profiles today can become distracting with different apps, plug-ins, games, and other digital creations becoming a clutter on a profile that becomes overall annoying to deal with.

The idea of keeping the profile to an absolute minimum became a notion worth striving for and soon different sites were trying to simplify the online material. The apex of the minimal profile rose in 2005 with the birth of Twitter. Twitter was created by web mogul Jack Dorsey, who created an online dispatch service for taxis and medical services when he was just 14 years old. In a 2012 article from Business Insider magazine, Dorsey spoke about Twitter came about: “For the next 5 years I thought about this [real-time blogging] concept and tried to silently introduce it into my various projects. It slipped into my dispatch work. It slipped into my networks of medical devices. It slipped into an idea for a frictionless service market. It was everywhere I looked: a wonderful abstraction which was easy to implement and understand.” [2] Twitter has become the case and point of this idea, still giving users the opportunity to post videos and photos, but restricting text posts, the staple and livelihood of the website, to just 140 characters. By restricting the length of text one could write in a Tweet, text posts have become a way to share thoughts, ideas, emotions, and outbursts in a simple and complete manner. While some have embraced Twitter to spread good news or thoughts, there are the users on Twitter that post to the site just to rank up in society with title of public nuisance.

Twitter can show a person’s personality and behavior in a minimal manner. Many have reached out to Twitter for its ability to share creative thoughts and sayings to a large number of people at once. Artist Jenny Holzer has chosen Twitter for this purpose (@jennyholzer).  Jenny Holzer bought out signs in public areas that displayed her phrases to a mass audience, but now Holzer is able to share her work and phrases with a following of close to 50,000 people with just one tweet.[3] Twitter does have users though who approach it for the opposite reason: to be destructive and offensive in order to attract attention or create turmoil online.  Earlier this year, there was a profile for Shelly Smyth that was a hacked and turned into a fake profile made by another user. While the account was not that of the real person, Shelly Smyth, the Tweets posted on the page became viral because of their extremely offensive statements against homosexuals, and extremely racist comments aimed at President Barack Obama and other African Americans. While the profile no longer exists, the real Shelly Smyth will be remembered as one of the most offensive people on the Internet despite the fact that she never posted one of the horrible tweets that outraged people all over the world.  While there are users that use social networking sites to connect and spread ideas and information, there will always be users that are destructive and contaminating to the online social sphere.

The website MediaBistro reported last June that there are over 400 million tweets per day.[4] Of those, there are an incredible amount of ideas and thoughts, both positive and negative, that are able to be reached by anyone. The idea that there are users everywhere who post both positive and negative materials is what TweetMotional is examining. TweetMotional is a way for the viewer to be connected to people from all around the world by seeing the posts from users that reflect their situations and feelings.   TweetMotional is a way to visualize these tweets in the context of the nature of the post and the publisher’s emotional and expressive intentions. TweetMotional will be an online app developed through Processing that scans through random tweets that are recently posted for specific keywords that express different emotions like happiness, sadness or depression, anger, frustration, offensive terms, or other expressions of emotion. Once a tweet has been selected, it appears on the screen in a color scheme according to the attitude of the text: green for tweets with keywords that are positive; red for tweets that contain anger, or offensive words and material; blue for tweets that contain keywords with depressing or sad emotions; and yellow for tweets that include words that are popular, trending, or are picked up based on different events happening. Once a tweet has been shown for 20 seconds, it fades away to be replaced by another incoming post. In this way, TweetMotional can give the user a way to see incoming tweets from people all around the world and specifically the situations and  emotional expressions described in a simple manner of color and text.

Different digital art works have in fact done this before. There are many works in fact where viewers are able to be connected to a random person through software that scans online posts, forums, statuses, chat rooms, and other online opinion and post sites, and then collects that data and brings it together in a display of sorts where the viewer can read or hear whatever data is being brought in by the software. One such work is the award winning installation piece Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin.[5] Listening Post works with software that actively scans online chat rooms and posts for specific phrases from people around the world. Once it has chosen different phrases or sayings, it displays the text of the post on one of 110 different LED screens that are also displaying posts of the same manner. Along with the text being displayed, computerized voices built into the screens read aloud each post. Listening Post is able to show the wide range of the Internet while also displaying an immense display of humanity to the viewer.

While Listening Post is a stunning masterpiece, it does not have the mobility to be seen by a large number of people; however, there are many websites that collect data from social networks and different chat room sites and visualize the data in some degree. One such piece by Golan Levin, Kamal Nigam, and Jonathan Feinberg, entitled The Dumpster scans through over 20,000 different blog posts from 2005, which deal with romantic breakup, and then turns the posts into a large number of “Breakup Balloons” that bounce across the screen. [6] These multicolored balloons each represent one breakup post, but when a balloon is clicked, the selected balloon acts as a probe that collects more posts that are similar to the one selected. If nothing is selected, random balloons will continue to bounce in and out of the window. To the left of the balloons is a pixel selector where each pixel represents one of the 20,000 posts, thus allowing the user two different ways to access these different emotional situations giving insight into extremely intimate moments of someone’s breakup in 2005.


[1]  “Social Network Site: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” last modified 2007,

[2] “Meet Jack Dorsey, The Visionary Behind Twitter and Square,” last modified

Oct. 3, 2012

[3] Jenny Holzer:; username @jennyholzer.

[4] “Twitter Now Seeing 400 Million Tweets Per Day, Increased Mobile Ad Revenue, Says CEO,” June 7, 2012,

[5] Mark Hansen, Ben Rubin, “Listening Post: Giving Voice to Online Communication,” (Proceedings of the 2002 International Conference on Auditory Display, Kyoto, Japan, July2-5, 2002).

[6] “The Dumpster,” created by Golan Levin, Kamal Nigam, and Jonathan Feinberg,

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