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Cliff views to strip clubs: New study finds the emotional highs and lows of San Francisco

People take selfies during the San Francisco Gay Pride parade on June 25, 2017. | Meera Fox/Getty Images

Disgust with the real estate agent. Sadness in the food court. Joy at the strip club. These are some of the strongest emotions San Franciscans associated with locations around the city, according to a recently published study in the academic journal PLOS ONE.

The research, which analyzed nearly 400,000 geotagged tweets made by about 65,000 unique users in San Francisco between January 2016 and August 2017, provides new insight into the emotional shifts residents—and visitors—experienced as they lived their lives during that time period.

The political events of that year had a major impact on San Franciscan’s social media presence, according to the study’s authors, who hail from universities in Japan, Switzerland and Austria. Local Twitter users showed the highest level of anticipation one day before the 2017 Women’s March, then the highest levels of anger, disgust and sadness on the day of the nationwide protest in January 2021. 

The researchers used recently developed computer models to analyze the text of each tweet and determine the emotional content therein.

Protestors at SF Civic Center in 2017 | Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Eight months later, thousands turned out in Berkeley to counterprotest a planned right-wing rally. Even as the conservative march was canceled, San Francisco Twitter saw its second-highest level of anger and disgust during that time period.

On a day-to-day level, San Franciscans expressed more anger during the middle of the week, and the least amount of anticipation on Sundays, the researchers found. So it fits that close proximity to an office yielded the most emotional tweets expressing anger, disgust or sadness. Sports and entertainment locations also elicited anger and sadness more than most other types of locations—perhaps helped along by the Giant’s division-trailing performance in 2017. 

The SF Giants dugout after a 2017 loss | Michael Macor/The SF Chronicle via Getty Images

The researchers identified nearly 530 specific points of interest in San Francisco and broke them out into different categories. This allowed them to show even more detailed emotional connections to different types of locations.

Hospitals, dentists’ and doctors’ offices were all places where people expressed fear and sadness, perhaps indicating that people were fearful for their illness or their loved ones, the researchers opined in the study. Maybe less expected: Hostels and galleries in San Francisco both attracted disgust, as did real estate agents and historic bunkers.

But it wasn’t all bad. San Franciscans near swimming pools, cliff viewpoints and delis all expressed joy. Embassies, meanwhile, brought out feelings of anticipation. Recycling centers elicited trust, though the tweets were collected before the city’s waste hauler was embroiled in scandal.

In some ways, San Francisco barely resembles its pre-pandemic self. For example, with Downtown emptying out, is the office still the nexus of locals’ angst? Or has that frustration migrated to everyone’s work-from-home bedroom desk? Perhaps that answer won’t come into full focus until the next time a team of international academics turns their focus to the swirling mess of emotions that is San Francisco Twitter.

Noah Baustin can be reached at