We are living in an age where people are actively expressing their opinions online. The amount of data that is available on the internet is vast and is available in many forms. Everyday, more and more people are joining social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This has provided people with an alternate platform to express themselves. The different ways in which people express themselves vary according to the platform on which they are expressing. For instance, on Instagram, people generally post about their personal life and make personal blogs to endorse products and generate money. On Facebook, it is a mix of marketing and target group outreach by brands and businesses and extensive sharing of personal information by people.
Twitter, however, is a unique place in certain aspects. Firstly, Twitter restricts the user to a character limit which initially started as 140 characters, but now has been doubled. Secondly, Twitter focuses a lot on hashtags and trends. These trends and hashtags allow people debating about similar issues to reach out to other people who are also debating about these issues and therefore, facilitate a conversation through tags and re-tweets that are spread across the entire network of users who are on Twitter. In short, one can assume that a lot of important conversations or discussions have started to happen on these social networking sites.
One significant phenomenon that these platforms leads to is transmittance of contrasting opinions on Twitter on popular topics like football, latest technology, trending political news and popular culture, which helps to develop a culture of debate and research. This serves as a gold mine for companies, brands and political IT cells to gauge the opinion of the masses about their products, services and effectiveness of the political campaigns.
The specific term used for analyzing the opinions of the masses via the use of social media platforms is called ‘opinion mining’ or sentiment analysis. By capturing the data on Twitter that concerns the opinions of the people on certain topics, an analysis can be done of the popular sentiment of a product or service or the popular perception amongst people about certain issues. While opinion analysis tools are not yet equipped to understand human emotions like sarcasm, irony and to contextualize human emotions very accurately, they still help to classify tweets on a scale of positive to negative. This allows the analysts to chart tweets and understand overall sentiment or at least the average sentiment of the people towards a particular product or service.
However, the most important use of opinion mining in recent years has been in analyzing live events, especially events like earthquakes, storms and other natural disasters. So, how do these live tweets actually help the analysts? Analysts use various algorithms during times of disaster to analyze the tweets of locals, who are seen as tweeting live. These live tweets help the analysts to identify the areas which need immediate help. It also helps to identify the casualties that have occurred. Although, these algorithms don’t work in an absolute perfect manner, they certainly help governments and other stakeholders to take quicker action and get more accurate updates on the situation. This is an active area of research that has drawn a lot of attention from researchers in the past decades. Formally, this kind of analysis is known as event summarization.
This brings us to the question. What exactly is the future of people’s interactions on Twitter? Some people put forth the idea that Twitter can certainly become the biggest source of gauging public opinion and understanding social interactions and political opinions of the people.
As far as politics is concerned, an active IT cell of political campaigning on the internet has become an integral part of the PR strategy of many successful political parties and candidates. In fact, some studies show correlation between active political controversy and an increase in the amount of discussions surrounding politics on Twitter. Many researchers even claim that these right-wing leaders, Donald Trump and Narendra Modi actually gained a victory because of the discussion they caused on the internet.
The real lives of people are increasingly becoming dependent on the internet. The kind of conversations they choose to engage in, the kind of news they want to spread and read, and the kind of opinions they put out for the scrutiny of others have started affecting the decisions they make in their real lives. So where does this end? Are they moving towards a world where the digital and the real will be hard to distinguish? Maybe, that world is closer, fast approaching than we can ever think of. Maybe, in the coming years, algorithms will become smart enough to know our emotions and opinions. Maybe, these algorithms will even help us in making more effective decisions in the near future.
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