Can a country's online "mood" predict unemployment spikes?

SAS, UN analyze social media to find leading, lagging indicators of surges in unemployment 

SAS and United Nations Global Pulse have learned that social media chatter and conversation sentiment could warn of pending unemployment increases and inform policymakers of likely effects. Analyzing half a million blogs, forums and news sites, SAS® Social Media Analytics and SAS Text Miner examined two years of social media data from the US and Ireland for references to unemployment and how people were coping.

SAS compared mood scores and conversation volume with official unemployment statistics to see if upticks in those topics were indicators of spikes in unemployment. The analysis revealed that increased chatter about cutting back on groceries, increasing use of public transportation and downgrading one’s automobile could, indeed, predict an unemployment spike. 

After a spike, surges in social media conversations about such topics as canceled vacations, reduced health care spending, and foreclosures or evictions shed light on lagging economic effects. Such information could be invaluable for policymakers trying to mitigate negative effects of increased unemployment. 

UN Global Pulse examines how new types of data complement and strengthen official statistics on how global crises affect people. Using a powerful new data source – global social media – SAS and UN Global Pulse demonstrated how analyzing social media provides real-time feedback for policymakers and improves the ability to manage disruptive events. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke about Global Pulse to the UN General Assembly in November. “The private sector is analyzing this new data to understand its customers in real-time,” he said. “Much of this data contains signals that are relevant to development. We must use it to tell us what is happening, while it is happening.”  

Analyzing a country's mood

Changes in a country's mood can also be an indicator of a pending rise in unemployment. By analyzing sentiment, each unemployment reference received a "mood score" based on tone: Are unemployed people optimistic about the future? Depressed about prospects? SAS further sorted data by themes, including housing, transportation and finance, using terms such as "car repossessed" or "entering foreclosure."

In the US, a rise in "hostile" or "depressed" mood occurred four months before the unemployment spike. Increases in "anxious" unemployment chatter in Ireland correlated with an unemployment spike five months later. Increased "confused" chatter preceded the spike by three months, while "confident" chatter decreased significantly two months out. A dashboard displayed results, including trends, moods on unemployment expressed in social media, mood change over time, and leading and lagging indicators of unemployment shocks. 

“Social media and Internet content is like the letters and phone calls that have always informed organizations. Only now, it’s digital, public and massive in scale. This untapped treasure can provide real-time feedback on policies, improve public safety, enhance citizen relations and support important sociological research,” said I-sah Hsieh, Global Manager, International Development, SAS. “But you need technology that can analyze raw text for hidden signals and sentiments, handle enormous amounts of data and perform predictive analyses.”  

About Global Pulse

Global Pulse is an innovation initiative of the UN Secretary-General, which functions as an innovation lab, bringing together expertise from inside and outside the United Nations to harness today's new world of digital data and real-time analytics for global development. The initiative contributes to a future in which access to better information sooner makes it possible to keep international development on track, protect the world's most vulnerable populations, and strengthen resilience to global shocks.

About SAS

SAS is the leader in business analytics software and services, and the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market. Through innovative solutions, SAS helps customers at more than 70,000 sites improve performance and deliver value by making better decisions faster. Since 1976 SAS has been giving customers around the world THE POWER TO KNOW® .

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