Google Trends, Clickbaits, and PV Sindhu
Aug 20, 2016
5 minute read

TL;DR

  1. Am I saying India doesn’t have a caste problem?

    No, it’s definitely a HUGE problem!

  2. Are these articles on Google Trends and Sindhu’s caste useful at all?

    Just more click-baits and no useful contribution to the discussion on caste.


First of all, congratulations to PV Sindhu on making it to the finals and giving the world number one a hard fight!

This post, though, is not a celebratory one. I read this article – While PV Sindhu fought hard for a medal, many Indians googled her caste – by the News Minute thanks to a re-tweet by TM Krishna. I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to it, if not for the retweet by TMK.

Caste is a huge problem for the country, and if you still like to pretend it isn’t – read this for a start. I’m not surprised that some people searched for Sindhu’s caste while she was battling it out at Rio. But, some people also searched for Badminton rules, and others for Sania Mirza! What surprises me is that the article doesn’t try to put the data in a context at all. Nor do I understand the contribution this article makes to the discussion on caste.

I played around a little more with these search terms and Google Trends, and here are a few things that I thought were worth sharing.

First of all, the article says “Many Indians”, and gives off cumulative month-wise numbers (UPDATE [2016-08-21 Sun 12:15]: which are so wrong! See Sankrant Sanu’s excellent article on India Facts). But, what does it really mean?

I don’t know if anybody actually wrote about how many people actually followed the match, but Sindhu actually managed to get a whole lot of people interested!

More people searched for PV Sindhu than the daily average number of searches (not hits) for Facebook and very close to the daily number of searches for Porn – two of the biggest things Internet is allegedly used for. Can you see the red line at the bottom? That is the number of people who actually searched for Sindhu’s caste – a tiny blip.

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s a plot of some of the other auto suggest terms + badminton rules & courts compared to Sindhu’s name.

Nothing other than badminton rules (which is at about 1% of max. searches) is even visible, clearly.

So, these other terms (wiki & caste being auto-suggested ones) are nowhere near the actual number of searches being made for PV Sindhu’s name alone.

Let’s get rid of the name graph to get a closer look at the other terms.

  • The maximum number of people searching for Sindhu’s caste is at about a fifth of the maximum number of people searching for badminton rules. Interpreting it is upto you. But, I’m not surprised knowing how significant caste has been in our society. Also, notice that searches for wiki and caste fall off more gradually than the searches for the rules which peak while the game is being played and watched.

  • Unsurprisingly, a bulk of the searches appear to be coming from Andhra and Telangana. Notice that the other states are searching more for the rules or her wiki page.

  • Do you notice that the red (caste), blue (wiki) and violet (images) lines following a similar trend, until the last few hours? What do you think is happening there? It’s the shitty click baits working! Look at the trends from ~8:30AM to ~12:30AM below – the red has spread to other states as well!
  • And this is how it looks by the evening (17:00-21:00). Well done, folks! The click bait articles totally succeeded!

If you are wondering how much effect the auto suggestions are having in suggesting people to try searching for caste, I don’t think that is much because wiki and images are the other auto-suggest terms, with no such surges in the number of searches.

We could see that the two Telugu states were more worried about the caste, than the rest of the country. Let’s see how abnormal they are.

You can definitely see the red line more prominently. In case of Andhra the peak searches for caste are at about 5% of the name searches. A statistically significant difference from the rest of the country.

Let’s zoom in at the auto-suggest terms alone.

Woah, Andhra is definitely quite an aberration from the rest of the country. From about 1/5th of the maximum number of searches for rules, the maximum number of caste searches jumps to about twice. Telangana also is different, but much less so.

Tamil Nadu’s trends below for comparison. You can’t help noticing the last few hours, can you?

NOTE: The trends and screen-shots for the states are slightly more recent than the others.

Conclusion

Without a context, I don’t really see the point of these “news” articles. It seems more click-bait-y than useful to me.

If you still feel many Indians were searching for Sindhu’s caste, while she was fighting it out, go ahead and play with Google trends here. Add/remove terms, change the time and location filters. Some terms that could be interesting to add to the comparison are: Kashmir, Independence day, Facebook.

Later, I looked at the search results and then found that this article wasn’t the only one like it. I didn’t bother to read the others, but I really hope at least some of them are talking sense. Is any of them really trying to contribute to the discussion on caste, meaningfully?

Also, the actual search results don’t seem to give useful answers to the folks so curious about Sindhu’s caste. I hope none of these articles are trying to help them out.

Finally, if you are using Google Trends to write an article, Danny Page has some really good advice.


Thanks to Kamal, baali and 9 for reading and reviewing drafts of this. Errors mine, obviously.



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