Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean no one is following you


Seems a secret group with hidden motives has been quietly signing up to monitor dozens of prominent atheists on Twitter — I knew I was being followed! We even have a pic of the perps above! Clearly, they’re dangerous subversives. Well, before this turns into a massive scandal orchestrated from the Oval Office, it turns out the motive was not sinister. That’s University of Illinois psychology professor Jesse Preston and grad student co-conspirator Ryan Ritter. They’ve just wrapped an analysis of Twitter culture, in their case, atheist vs religious tweets. Here’s some highlights:

Science 2.0 — To identify Christian and atheist Twitter users, the researchers studied the tweets of more than 16,000 followers of a few prominent Christian and atheist personalities on Twitter. They analyzed the tweets for their emotional content (the use of more positive or negative words), the frequency of words (such as “friend” and “brother”) that are related to social processes, and the frequency of their use of words (such as “because” and “think”) that are associated with an analytical thinking style.

Overall, tweets by Christians had more positive and less negative content than tweets by atheists, the researchers report. A less analytical thinking style among Christians and more frequent use of social words were correlated with the use of words indicating positive emotions, the researchers said. Christians also were more likely than atheists to tweet about their social relationships, the results found.

“Whether religious people experience more or less happiness is an important question in itself,” the authors of the new analysis wrote. “But to truly understand how religion and happiness are related we must also understand why the two may be related.”

The authors hypothesize that people belonging to traditional religions orgs might feel more connected, more social and not as lonely, and thus might feel a little better. Humans don’t like isolation, real or imagined, even anti-social loners in prison can be punished with the threat of solitary confinement. So that sounds like a plausible, testable idea to me.


  1. Maureen Brian says

    Wouldn’t you need to identify / eliminate those religious bods for whom excessive use of “friend” or “brother” are part of the patter and not necessarily an indicator of warm personal feelings?

  2. Tenebras says

    And on top of the previous comments, maybe atheists and Christians use Twitter for very different things. Most of the atheists I follow on Twitter use it to rally the troops against whatever new breach of Church and State pops up, or to vent about the religion being tossed at them daily, or to write about atheism/secularism/feminism/etc. Whereas most of the religious tweets I see are people bragging about how fucking “blessed” they are by their non-existent deity. (And yes it is usually bragging, it’s a not-so-subtle way of saying “I’m SOOOO SUPER HAPPY that means I’m a good Christian and God has rewarded me with this happiness, so if you’re not happy it’s YOUR FAULT and I’M BETTER THAN YOU.” What a happy and sociable way of thinking, that. :P)

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