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Google Trends: A diachronic analysis in the making

In order to use Google Trends to analyze violent shootings in America, we need to become linguists, tracking how often the words “violent video games” occur, for example, after each tragic school shooting. Google Trends lets us compare the number of such phrases searched over a length of time. When we analyze the differences of searches before and after violent shootings, we’re being amateur linguists using diachronic analysis to research whether we seek a connection between violent shootings and violent media.

The first step in using diachronic analysis to investigate what’s on the mind of the web searchers is a “corpus 1.” The second, according to Adam Kilgarriff in “DIACRAN: a framework for diachronic analysis,” is a “formula for ranking how interesting each word is,” Lastly, we need the key words to study. Google Trends gives us all the tools we need to conduct  a diachronic analysis and to discover if we-as a culture-seek this connection.

The key-words are the easiest piece to see. “Consumption of violent media has no correlation to violent crimes.” This is a tiresome conclusion that has been reached time and time again through countless studies. However, what is 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 those conclusions. When pursuing why this was the case Google Trends came into play. Google Trends revealed that web searchers were looking for terms like “gun control”, “ violent shooting”, and “video games.” These are the key words in our own diachronic analysis. Google Trends shows all of its data as line graphs.

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 shows that the public had a notable interest in the idea of gun control around the time of these violent crimes that were blamed on the consumption of violent media.

The second piece is the corpus. A corpus is a random body of text that’s being examined for the study. In our case with Google Trends, we can compare how interested google users are in our key-words to more common phrases like “sports”. 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. This shows that there is a significant amount of people who are interested in finding a connection between violent shootings and violent media. The spikes that we see in the graph are around the times of the Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Parkland shootings, two of which were blamed on violent media.

Finally, we need a means of gauging how interesting each word is. We have a 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 our purpose of exploring if we crave to search for a connection. 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. “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” appears to be 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).  However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is being compared to phrases that are heavily searched. This shows that there is a significant portion of google users who are interested in the term gun control. This establishes that gun control is a phrase that is in the mind of the collective unconscious. 

When we switch out the phrase gun control for video game we see something similar where we have small spikes in interest around the times of the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings. Looking at these charts it’s apparent that we-as internet searchers- are fairly interested in the connection between video games and violent shootings committed by teens. This evidence suggest that despite the countless studies done that say there is no correlation, that either that information isn’t well spread, or people have a reason why they’re searching these terms.

All in all, using Google Trends is just another means of conducting a diachronic analysis. It can grant insight into the relationship between blaming violent crimes on media and search trends of google users. In fact, it shows that google users are interested in the relationship and actively take a roll in investigating themselves.

References:

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.

Campbell, C. (2018, March 10). A brief history of blaming video games for mass murder. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.polygon.com/2018/3/10/17101232/a-brief-history-of-video-game-violence-blame

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