"Narco" emotions: affect and desensitization in social media during the mexican drug war

Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Volume abs/1507.01287, 2014.

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crisis informaticsaffective responsedrug wararmed conflictNational Human Rights CommissionMore(12+)
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While violence was on the rise in our regions of interest, our findings showed a decline in negative affect as well as a rise in emotional arousal and dominance in Twitter posts: aspects that are known to be psychological correlates of desensitization

Abstract:

Social media platforms have emerged as prominent information sharing ecosystems in the context of a variety of recent crises, ranging from mass emergencies, to wars and political conflicts. We study affective responses in social media and how they might indicate desensitization to violence experienced in communities embroiled in an armed ...More

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Introduction
  • People living in regions facing warfare or political conflict are often exposed to protracted violence that have negative mental and physical side-effects.
  • Drug War in Mexico: An Overview The Mexican Drug War is an ongoing armed conflict among rival drug cartels fighting each other for regional control and against the Mexican government forces and civilian vigilante groups
  • It was reported in 2011 that this Drug War had taken 60,000 lives [4] and has displaced between 230,000 and 1.6 million people.
  • Given the acuteness of the circumstances, and as a consequence of weakened and censored traditional media along with the failure of the local governments in appropriate public communication [25], blogs and social media accounts [15] have emerged that attempt to report gory details, warnings, and alerts about the ongoing violence in various cities as they unfold—increasing the average civilian’s exposure to the crisis
Highlights
  • People living in regions facing warfare or political conflict are often exposed to protracted violence that have negative mental and physical side-effects
  • We use social media to examine the evolution of affective reactions to persistent violence, and to study whether affective desensitization may be manifested on social media, focusing on the Mexican Drug War
  • We focus on the words and word stems available in the negative affect categories in LIWC: “negative emotion”, “sadness”, “anger”, “anxiety” and “inhibition”
  • Our findings have demonstrated how chronic exposure to violence as a consequence of urban warfare in Mexico is associated with lowered affective responses in Twitter posts of citizens experiencing the violence, leading to possible signs of desensitization in their social media postings
  • Through a large-scale quantitative study around the Mexican Drug War, we have demonstrated the nature of affective changes in social media posts by people exposed to this protracted violence
  • We observe that in 2012, the mean dominance per month was between 8.6-41.7% greater than the mean dominance per month for all of the four cities (Monterrey= 8.6%; Reynosa= 29.3%; Saltillo= 41.7%; Veracruz= 9.2%)
  • While violence was on the rise in our regions of interest, our findings showed a decline in negative affect as well as a rise in emotional arousal and dominance in Twitter posts: aspects that are known to be psychological correlates of desensitization
Results
  • LIWC’s emotion categories are large in size, broad in semantics, and have been validated for affect computation on Twitter [12,14].
  • The authors compiled a negative affect lexicon for Spanish text.
  • Based on regular expression matching of the words in the lexicon with the content of a Twitter post, the authors determined a measure of NA as the ratio of the number of negative words in the post to the number of words in the post
Conclusion
  • The authors' findings have demonstrated how chronic exposure to violence as a consequence of urban warfare in Mexico is associated with lowered affective responses in Twitter posts of citizens experiencing the violence, leading to possible signs of desensitization in their social media postings.
  • These observations extend the literature on crisis informatics.
Summary
  • Introduction:

    People living in regions facing warfare or political conflict are often exposed to protracted violence that have negative mental and physical side-effects.
  • Drug War in Mexico: An Overview The Mexican Drug War is an ongoing armed conflict among rival drug cartels fighting each other for regional control and against the Mexican government forces and civilian vigilante groups
  • It was reported in 2011 that this Drug War had taken 60,000 lives [4] and has displaced between 230,000 and 1.6 million people.
  • Given the acuteness of the circumstances, and as a consequence of weakened and censored traditional media along with the failure of the local governments in appropriate public communication [25], blogs and social media accounts [15] have emerged that attempt to report gory details, warnings, and alerts about the ongoing violence in various cities as they unfold—increasing the average civilian’s exposure to the crisis
  • Objectives:

    Research Questions In the context of the ongoing urban warfare in Mexico and the context described above, the authors aim to investigate the following core question: can social media signal how people’s affective reactions to violence change as they get exposed to persistent violence? In the following paragraphs the authors will flesh out the research questions.
  • Results:

    LIWC’s emotion categories are large in size, broad in semantics, and have been validated for affect computation on Twitter [12,14].
  • The authors compiled a negative affect lexicon for Spanish text.
  • Based on regular expression matching of the words in the lexicon with the content of a Twitter post, the authors determined a measure of NA as the ratio of the number of negative words in the post to the number of words in the post
  • Conclusion:

    The authors' findings have demonstrated how chronic exposure to violence as a consequence of urban warfare in Mexico is associated with lowered affective responses in Twitter posts of citizens experiencing the violence, leading to possible signs of desensitization in their social media postings.
  • These observations extend the literature on crisis informatics.
Tables
  • Table1: Example city-specific postings on Twitter
  • Table2: Statistics of Twitter data on the four cities
  • Table3: List of narco words
  • Table4: Sample posts showing use of narco words
  • Table5: Change in NA in 2012 compared to 2010-11. We also show the results of statistical significance comparing NA over time and number of homicides for the corresponding cities over time, using a paired t-test (df=29)
  • Table6: Fisher's r-to-z tests, that compare the correlations of measures (NA, activation, dominance) in 2010-11 with 2012. Here + p < .2; * p < .05; ** p< .01
Download tables as Excel
Related work
  • There has been an increased interest in HCI research in understanding how citizens use social technologies to respond to crises: from natural ones: earthquakes and floods, to manmade ones: wars and terrorist attacks [9,26]. As social media becomes a prominent communication channel, the motivation to study the use of these platforms during crises, comes in part, from a desire to understand how society copes with those events. Our work builds on this prior literature in crisis informatics by investigating how social media can be used to gauge the well-being of a society experiencing prolonged violence. There is limited research in this area e.g., [21] that investigate citizens’ affective responses to crisis, even specifically to the Mexican Drug War [26], albeit focused on a US border town. However, to our knowledge, the crisis informatics literature, despite studying a wide range of crises (e.g., [9,26]), has not examined emotional expression of citizens experiencing urban warfare. Our study will investigate emotional responses manifested in social media during a crisis and has implications for public health officials, as social media could potentially be used as a barometer of negative psychological impact on citizens.
Funding
  • This material is partly supported by NSF grant #1218705
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