Why love always trumps hate, as shown by a Twitter experiment

If Friday's attacks on two mosques proved anything, it's that one senseless act can leave a nation in despair. But what does the data tell us about human's ability to commit acts of love, versus acts of hate? AUT professor Mike Hutcheson reflects on a Twitter experiment carried out years ago that measured just this – and says there's hope for us yet.

I have nothing to add by way of insight to what has already been said about the appalling horror of fifty innocent Muslims being murdered. But I could suggest signs of hope. The outpouring of grief and love we have seen in recent days is, in some small way, helping atone for our complacent belief that it couldn’t happen here.

In that vein, a few years ago, I worked on a project with some clever software developers at ICG, to see if online social media conversations differed from the messages of mainstream media. We wanted to scan social media posts to understand if subterranean conversations from otherwise unheard voices reflected a different narrative than that in mainstream media. In dark places they sometimes did, but overall, they showed profound positivity.

As a trial exercise to test the validity of the programme, the geeks at ICG developed an algorithm to track the incidence of the words ‘love’ and ‘hate’ appearing on Twitter globally, in real time. The conversations containing those words were then displayed on screen as a continuously streaming waterfall.

This wasn’t a scientific experiment, we only tracked conversations in English, we didn’t track any theme or hate speech as such, and we ignored the contexts in which the words were uttered. The conversations could have been as prurient as “…love you long time” or as prosaic as “I hate this wet weather” and “I love chocolate cake”.  But the crucial thing was – on a minute by minute basis, the word ‘love’ appeared five times more than ‘hate’.

I hope we can assume from this that, despite the hate that exists in the world, there is five times more love. Which may be why the world still works, despite the banal egregiousness of a man’s inhumanity to fellow man.


A creative advertising legend, Mike Hutcheson co-founded Colenso BBDO, HKM and Marcoa Direct and also guided Saatchi & Saatchi through an extraordinary period of success as managing director. He now is a professor at AUT, passing along his wisdom about creativity and innovation to the next generation.

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