Traditionally, the last Monday of the last full week of January has been a special day for bloggers, where everyone gets together to debunk the media-friendly pseudoscientific Blue Monday. Indeed, the date has had such a thorough trouncing that PR has switched tack, and it disappoints and distresses me to announce that today is in fact the most depressing day of the year.
In some of the best journalism they’ve done in a while, the Daily Mail has synthesised a bunch of press releases all pointing to the trend. Except most of it doesn’t. Indeed, only two of the various PR surveys they report found anything to do with this day. Let’s take the easy one first: today is the most popular day of the year for starting divorce proceedings. A divorce firm reckons this is because of the strain of Christmas, and, well, possibly. However, it’s likely that the major underlying cause is more mundane: professionals–such as lawyers–tend to take a lot of time off over the Christmas break, and the first Monday of January that isn’t a bank holiday is the first day everyone will be guaranteed to be back at work. Far from a stampede to divorce spouses who cheated at Monopoly, this is more likely a backlog from office closure.
The other study appears at face value to be somewhat more convincing: certainly, it’s a little more robust than the original Blue Monday equation. Some company flogging some sort of shit analysed tweets looking for “negative language” and determined that this happens today.
Now, I hunted the internet for a detailed research methodology for this study, and came up empty-handed. So I downgraded, and decided to look for the original press release, which didn’t seem to be anywhere either. So basically all I have to go on is what is regurgitated in the Mail:
But over the past three years, researchers analysed more than 2million tweets posted by Britons in January looking for negative language and phrases indicating a drop in mood.
They found that today, there will be nearly five times the average number of tweets relating to guilt, as people abandon their promises to pursue a healthier lifestyle.
The analysis, by [like fuck I’m promoting them for this nonsense], also found complaints about the weather will be six times higher than usual – and men will feel more miserable than women.
First of all, the good: props to the PR people for doing this analysis over three years. On initial reading, I thought they’d just analysed tweets over a year, which would only tell us something about what the most depressing day of whatever year they analysed was. That’s about the only nice thing I have to say about this study.
Now, the most glaring thing about this research is that only tweets in the month of January were analysed. This means that a spike in tweets expressing a negative sentiment can only be identified during the month of January. What if there’s actually some sort of mystical force which makes the world an incredibly miserable place to live in on 23rd March? Tough titties. It was clear that they wanted a January date to flog whatever it is they’re flogging, and so they made damn sure it would happen in January, by only analysing January. It’s fairly elegant in its simplicity, although were I the PR people, I’d have buried that little fact deeper in the press release, because it really does detract from their “most depressing day of the year” message.
So, now let’s get to the minor niggles. The sample size looks like a complete turd. Twitter is a website wherein half a billion tweets a day are posted. Even if we assume that UK-based users only account for 1% of these tweets, we’re still looking at 5 million tweets per day. This research analysed only two million over the course of three Januarys. That’s a mere drop in the ocean. And how was this sample selected? We don’t fucking know. Presumably it was based on whoever the company’s follow-shit-on-Twitter bot decided to follow. And that’s the better explanation…
How were words coded and analysed as pertaining to, for example, guilt? Again, we don’t fucking know, but given the fact that it was a large data set, I’d guess it was computer-based analysis using pre-defined word lists. Given that it’s already demonstrated how much the research set out to find something predetermined, I have little faith in how these word lists were constructed. If I were to guess at how they found their two million tweets, I’d suspect it was standing searches for whatever words they’d selected, and counting the number of tweets using these words per day. That’s just fucking lazy.
And finally, how on earth did the research determine which users were men, and which were women? I shudder to think. A seething hive of assumptions, all wrapped up in a blanket of “fuck knows”.
So, in short, today isn’t the most depressing day of the year, it’s just the same PR bollocks lapped up by a thirsty-for-bullshit media. Let’s be honest with ourselves, everything is shit. It’s hard to find social forces that make one particular day w0rse than any others, because everything is shit. About 8-12% of people in the UK alone live with depression, and if anything, that figure is probably an underestimation, because everything is shit.
I wish I could have a duvet today, because fuck it, I’m depressed. Do PR studies constitute a valid excuse? I wish I had the energy to try.