This month violence in Bangui, Central African Republic, led to a UN mandated French military force intervening and media interested spiked. For those of us who kept up to date on the goings on in CAR we were now seeing it actually in printed newspapers and not just online, on prime-time news and not just the World Service. For someone who tweets about CAR often this was also accompanied by a hashtag that people were using to talk about the violence: in was #CARCrisis, out was the ambiguous #CAR and the character eating #CentralAfricanRepublic. Though for the francophones #RCA seemed to remain the same.
I was interested to know if increased activity on Twitter around an issue that is usually ignored transfers into increased awareness in the wider world. One potential source for an answer to this lies with Google Trends.
Google Trends is a Google tool that gives a tracking measurement of interest in any word or phrase over time. This interest is measured by the volume of searches on Google. You don’t get the total number but you can see a 1-100 scale – with 1 representing the fewest searches and 100 the most. Simply put, you get a chart which tells how many people have looked something up on Google since 2004 and you can compare two terms. Like this one for searches of Nelson Mandela and Miley Cyrus over 2013 (yes Miley’s highest point, from twerking on MTV, is double Mandela’s).
I’m a big fan of Google Trends. The size of Google means it can tell you a lot if you use it right. When we crossed it with the Failed State Index we could see just how forgotten CAR was in comparison with other countries affected by conflict and under-development.
This chart shows the level of global interest in 2013 up until 20 November and you can read it as one search for CAR was matched by the numbers above for other countries, so South Sudan was googled 22 times for every 1 search of CAR.
A more recent search seems to confirm that recent public interest in CAR has never been higher. For partial December data we can see a record spike.
Since we already knew CAR was well behind other failed states what’s its popularity relative to the starting point we measured in late November?
Even at the extreme where the pre-November average was 45 Afghanistan searches for every 1 of CAR, December saw that fall to 8 for every 1 CAR search. A significant increase which will hopefully lead to a sustained growth in awareness for a forgotten country but Google Trends sadly can’t tell us if this interest is going to lead to any better support for the people of CAR.
A final word of warning for Google Trends is that you’re only as good as your search terms, for example Chad had to be missed out because of searches for people called Chad, the data on DRC won’t be perfect because of the many ways you can look it up and the sizeable French interest in CAR is missed because we’ve not searched ‘centrafrique’. Still a great tool for giving an insight into the nations and causes and celebs that are capturing the public’s interest at any given time.
Click on the graph headings to get the original data sets