In order to use Google Trends to analyze violent shootings in America, we need to become linguists. Google Trends is a tool that allows one to view how often certain phrases or words are searched through google, over a period of time. Linguist study how society uses words, how often these words are used, and how language changes over time. Google Trends is a way to narrow key words and see how often they are used. The study of key words changing over time is called diachronic analysis. Google Trends is a type of this analysis , and in fact it’s the best way to examine how violent shootings blamed on violent media effect search trends.
To show that analyzing Google Trends is a type of diachronic analysis, we need to know what makes up a diachronic analysis. There are three major pieces for this analysis. Two of them are “corpus 1,…and a formula for ranking how interesting each work is,” according to Adam Kilgarriff in “DIACRAN: a framework for diachronic analysis.” The last piece are the key-words being studied. Viewing search trends with Google Trends actually has all of these pieces necessary to be a diachronic analysis.
The key-words are the easiest piece to see. I stumbled across the keys-words by pursuing one thought “Violent media does not cause violent crimes.” This is a conclusion that has been reached time and time again through countless studies. However, what I found odd is that shootings like the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012, or the Parkland shooting in February 2017, were both blamed on violent media (more specifically video games), despite that conclusion. When pursuing why this was the case I stumbled across Google Trends. I was curious as to when people were searching for terms like “gun control”, “ violent shooting”, and “mental health.” Unbeknownst to me, these were the key words in my own diachronic analysis. Google Trends shows all of its data as line graphs, that have dips and spikes depending on how often a term is searched. When searching a term like “gun control” there are notable spikes in December 2012, and February 2017, around the time that the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings happened. This was the first step in my diachronic analysis.
The second piece is the corpus. A corpus is a random body of text that’s being examined for the study. Normally its used to see often the key-words come up. This information can be used in turn to note how often words are used, and what words are going out of linguistic style. Usually its noted how often the key-word appears out of 1 million words. In our case with Google Trends, we can compare how interested google users are in our key-words to more common phrases like “sports”. This is not a new process by any means and has been done numerous times by analysts, and journalist alike. Data journalist Simon Rogers explains on “Google News Lab” that “to get a sense of relative size, we can add additional terms, which helps put that search interest into perspective…” This creates a scale for our key word which can act as our corpus. Now Google Trends have numbers out of 100 that rank how interested google users are in topics. In December of 2012 the term “sports” was given an interest rank of 92, while “shooting” was given a interest rank of 95. Meaning that google users were more interested in shootings compared to sports, a national past time in America. The term “sports” remains relatively constant throughout the years with a pretty constant interest which helps us use it as our “corpus”, or a means of comparison.
Finally, we needs a means of gauging how interesting each word is. Now as stated before, we have an actual means of measuring how interested the public is in each phrase when comparing phrases to one another. However, we need to decide what phrases are most suited for the purpose of analyzing the blame of violent crimes on media, on search trends. One thing to note is that the Las Vegas shooting is a bit of an outlier. Despite not being blamed on violent media, it is one of the top ten things searched on google in 2017. It’s being included as a means of measuring how interesting our media blamed shootings are to google users, compared to it. “Shooting” is a good baseline, but we see spikes at multiple places when big incidents happened but most notably around the times of the Las Vegas, Parkland, and Sandy Hook shootings. “Gun control” is a much weaker phrase as around the time of these crimes there was only a interest rating of 3-5 (compared to sports 80-90 rating). Other terms like “mental health”, “mass murder”, “video games”, “violence”, all have rantings anywhere from less than 1 to 5 around these times. All of these words were compared against sports. However, once we begin to compare these terms to each other, we start to see small jumps in the phrase “video games” around the times of the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings. Now these jumps are small (only going from around 4 up to 9 and 10 when compared to shootings), but there is still an increase. This has identified three key phrases to our analysis “shootings”, “video games”, and “gun control”. Logically, these phrases make the most sense since they have to do with the topic at hand, but the relationship between these topics could provide insight into when/why google users show interest in certain topics.
All in all, using Google Trends is just another means of conducting a diachronic analysis. It has all the necessary components to be considered one. It’s not a brand new means of analyzing data by any means, but it can potentially grant insight into the relationship between blaming violent crimes on media and search trends of google users.
Kilgarriff, Adam, et al. “DIACRAN: A Framework for Diachronic Analysis.” Lexical Computing, 2013.
Ramat, Anna Giacalone, et al. Synchrony and Diachrony: a Dynamic Interface. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2013, books.google.com/books?id=YdnA6nBjXjAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=isbn:9027272077&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiQj6TkzY7eAhUyTd8KHQIXBiAQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Rogers, Simon. “What Is Google Trends Data – and What Does It Mean?” Medium, Google News Lab, 1 July 2016, medium.com/google-news-lab/what-is-google-trends-data-and-what-does-it-mean-b48f07342ee8.