by Lisa Zhang on Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 1:25am
We’re bringing the Facebook Gross National Happiness index to 18 additional countries today, including Germany, India and Spain. As before, we analyzed the use of positive and negative words in status updates to estimate the happiness of people on Facebook in each of the countries.
Unsurprisingly, disasters have a dramatic effect on happiness levels. We see a large dip in India’s index on Nov. 27, 2008, the day of the Mumbai terrorist attack. We also notice a huge drop in Chile’s index, corresponding to the tragic earthquake on Feb. 27, 2010. Chile’s happiness index has still not fully recovered. When another earthquake of a magnitude 6.3 hit central Italy on April 6, 2009, its happiness score dropped, as did Mexico’s index between April 24-29, 2009, during the H1N1 flu outbreak and an earthquake.
Check out the graph yourself and see if you can find a significant day in your country.
Cultural differences also play a role in people’s weekly happiness cycles and how they celebrate holidays. South Africans are happier on Fridays than Saturdays, a weekly cycle different from that of other countries. In several countries such as Spain and Germany, people are more festive on Christmas Eve than on Christmas Day. One week later, Singaporeans are happier on New Year’s Day than New Year’s Eve.
Some countries like the U.S. and Canada are seeing increases in both positivity and decreases in negativity. Other countries like India see decreases in negativity, but changes in positivity are not statistically significant. We see an increase in both positivity and negativity in Spain and almost all Spanish-speaking countries. Singaporeans and South Africans, on the other hand, are decreasing their use of emotional words overall.
As always, no one at Facebook reads status updates to conduct this analysis. Instead, computers do the calculations after all personally identifiable information is removed.
There are financial motives behind the company’s moves. One of the ways Facebook makes money with its free service is by customizing the selection of advertisements shown to individual users. The more information that users put into their profiles, the more the company can make from such focused ads.
In addition, analysts say Facebook may be eyeing the lucrative market for online search, figuring that its users will be more likely to turn to their friends for advice and information than the wider Web. That opens up more opportunities for advertisers.
“They’re heating up in their battle against Google,” said Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at the Internet security firm F-Secure who analyzes social networks. “If I’m looking for a day care for my 6-year-old, I’m going to put that in my status message, not do a Google search.”
Mr. Schrage of Facebook said the controversy over the site’s changes was indicative of a larger shift online.
“Facebook has been made the center of attention around a really important issue of how technology is changing the conception of privacy, control and sharing,” he said. “People are uneasy about it, but as they start to see the benefits and advantages of it, they start to see the value of the experiences.”