Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Fans' Twitter tirades analysed

Liverpool fans are among the most likely to swear about their team in tweets

Some might say it is research about sweet FA.

Experts from Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University (RGU) have taken to Twitter to find out more about how football fans express themselves.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that supporters like to swear a lot, with more than one in 20 tweets about the beautiful game containing profanities.

But researchers also concluded that swearing by football fans is more elaborate and nuanced than one might initially think.

Supporters were more likely to use bad language in a positive context than when something goes wrong in a match, the study found.

Liverpool fans were found to be some of the most likely to swear about their own team.

The study, carried out by RGU's Dr Emma Byrne and Dr David Corney, looked at tweets about English Premier League matches on Saturday afternoons over three consecutive weeks.

They collected an average of just over 125,000 tweets during the allotted analysis period on each match day.

Analysis revealed that almost 6,500 tweets, or just over 5%, contained the two most common swearwords in the English language.

The various contexts in which swearing is used were also revealed by the research, which found profanities were not simply reserved for expressing discontent.

While fans used swear words to express frustration with their team or opponents' foul play, at other times they were used in expressions of celebration or humour.

The research paper concludes: "Through a careful analysis of a collection of tweets about football that contain swearing, we have shown that bad language is not always negative; that the wider context is often crucial to interpret meaning; and that perhaps counter-intuitively, some of the strongest sentiments expressed are self-critical."

It goes on: "We have seen that fans of English Premier League teams often swear about or at their own team, and relatively rarely about an opposing team or match officials. It may be that swearing is being used as a means of demonstrating affiliation to a particular group, or to demonstrate greater passion about their own team and an apparent indifference to all others."

Reflecting on the research, Dr Byrne said: "It's no secret that football fans like to swear. But what's surprising is how and why they swear.

"For example, we found that fans are even more likely to swear when something great happens - when their team scores a goal, for example - than they are when something bad occurs."

One aspect which might surprise the casual fan is the extent to which diehards swear about their own team, researchers said.

"We found that Liverpool fans in particular were fantastic for this." added Dr Byrne, a supporter of the team herself.

"Even when they've just scored, Liverpool fans always find something to gripe about."

Dr Corney, senior research fellow at RGU's innovation, design and sustainability research institute, said: "There's a serious side to this research.

"Sentiment mining - the attempt to understand what emotions people are expressing in their online social networks - is huge business.

"Until now, many sentiment miners had taken the rather naive view that swearing is always a sign of anger or frustration. Our research shows that this is not the case - that swearing can also be an intensifier that is used at times of elation or excitement."

The research paper, entitled Sweet FA: sentiment, swearing and soccer, is to be presented next week at a multimedia conference.

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