Our need to analyze violent shootings
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 times such phrases are 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 to compile a “corpus 1,” a set of terms can evaluate over time. For this paper, the corpus 1 consists of words relating to gun violence and video games. The second, according to Adam Kilgarriff in “DIACRAN: a framework for diachronic analysis,” is a “formula for ranking how interesting each word is,” where the most interesting words are those that appear frequently, change, and stay changed. 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 a connection between, in our case, violent shootings and violent media.
The key-words are the easiest piece to see. Google Trends reveal that, following the mass shootings at Parkland and Sandy Hook, web searchers were looking for terms like “Gun Control,” “Violent Shooting,” and “Video Game,” the key words in our own diachronic analysis. The well-researched conclusion, reached time and time again, that “Consumption of violent media has no correlation to violent crimes,” has never prevented web searches from seeking such a connection. As usual, the shootings at Sandy Hook in December 2012 and at Parkland in February 2017 were blamed on violent media (more specifically on video games), despite repeated and convincing refutations on that theory. 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 these conclusion.
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.I
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.
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.
Analyzing search trends after violent crimes provides insight into the intentions of the people searching. There are distinct groups created after a polarizing event happens. Some people search because they want to know more about the event, others search because they want to write about it, and others search because they want to prove their friends wrong. After a violent shooting blamed on video games happens, there is an increase in searches for topics like “gun control”, “video games”, and “shootings”, because people want to gather information for their own day to day arguments. Each of our key-words are searched in varying levels, depending on the group. Evidence suggest that not all of these groups are affected when a violent crime occurs because they don’t have a need for the information the internet offers.
The first group of people, who just want general information are the easiest to identify and examine. Their intentions are the easiest to guess at as well. They want information about violent crimes because they like finding out the information for themselves. After a shooting that happens, that’s blamed on video games they tend to react the least. These people don’t really care about what the shooting was blamed, they just want to know what the “what” is. For the most part, they also just want to be in the know of things that are happening in the United States. This group is created from anything big happening. There is always a hunger for information that people naturally have, regardless of whether that information is accurate. This is how fake news is spread often, because people simply want information of some kind relating to a topic. After a violent crime, this group tends to be the one’s searching for “shooting” the most, as they only have limited information and want more. For example someone unfamiliar with the Parkland incident in 2017, would likely search “Florida shooting”.
The second group, is the group of people who search to write about, or report the topics. Now this group is interesting because they are created for a purpose. The last group didn’t necessarily have a purpose outside of simply acquiring information, regardless of what the information entails. This group searches the most and for the sole purpose of getting the most accurate information. Most people who report on, or write about a subject want to have reliable information so they will obviously do quite a bit of searching. This group is also less interested in the “what” unless they are writing specifically about that. This group is significant because they are the group that takes information for their own benefit. The first group is mostly focused on acquiring some kind of information, while this group acquires accurate information that backs up their own opinion. A good example of this is news outlets. They will acquire accurate information of events, but may tweak what the causes, or effects are of the event to suite the message they are trying to send to their audience. A more right leaning outlet may focus less on ideas like gun control because they don’t even want that topic coming up. Now this group is the group that focuses the most of their searches on terms like “gun control”, “mental health”, and “shooting”. They want to see a correlation between these terms so that they can either include them in their own argument, or leave them out if they don’t agree with their point of view.
The last group of people is the group that searches to bolster their own personal arguments. Now this group isn’t writing for any outlet, or paper, so they don’t tend to be focused too much on accurate information. In fact, they mostly search for terms and ideas that only support their argument, not even acknowledging the other side for the most part. This group tends to search for all the key terms because they want to find a link of any kind between the terms in order to make their personal arguments sounder. This group searches the most out of any group because they are the group that makes up a majority of the searches. Directly after a violent crime happens that’s blamed on violent media, people either take the side of for or against. People storm the internet searching for information that satisfies them. It’s honestly extremely logical if we consider how many people want to prove themselves right. Especially if they are in an argument with their friends, or family about a topic. This is why the search trends increase so much after big shootings like the Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Las Vegas shootings.
Many may argue that there is no way that google searches can offer insight into what types of people we are. It’s not accurate or fair to divide people into groups based on what they choose to search. That searches don’t show anything about our societal hive mind, because people are always going to naturally seek information. In fact, we as people are multi-faceted and boiling us down to Validators, Writers, and Seekers doesn’t show anything about internet culture or our craving for information. Although not the focal point of the paper, some may even go as far as to argue against the idea that violent video games don’t cause violent behavior. Despite these claims it’s apparent that their is some connection between an increase in google searches for certain key phrases after a particularly violent crime blamed on violent media committed by a teen.
The first major point to talk about is that google searches can’t offer insight into what types of people we are. For example, just because someone searches “bomb” doesn’t mean they are a terrorist. However, it’s important to realize that the internet omits “survey bias.” As writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz says in his article “Everybody lies: how Google searches reveal our darkest secrets,” “The more impersonal the conditions, the more honest people will be…Certain online sources get people to admit things they would not admit anywhere else. They serve as a digital truth serum.” This shows that people are willing to be much more honest about what they believe when it comes to browsing the internet. In fact, searches are not just done purely for information. The evidence suggest that when we-as a culture- search for gun control, video games, and shootings, it’s because we have some opinion on this topic. Before he explains that google searches are almost like truth serum Stephens-Davidowitz says that “Many people underreport embarrassing behaviors and thoughts on surveys. They want to look good, even though most surveys are anonymous. This is called social desirability bias.” People have ideas of what is desirable in society and choose to hide what they believe from all but the internet as a means of staying socially credible. Despite this, there is still a desire to support one’s own argument, which is why many people who search end up being Validators. Unlike Seekers, they aren’t searching for information, but echo chambers that support their own ideas.
Another point is that some may challenge the base idea that video games don’t cause violent behavior. Although this is a topic that has been argued to death, it still comes up every time a violent shooting happens that is blamed on violent media. In fact, numerous articles were released after the Parkland shooting stating that there is no correlation, because President Donald Trump released a statement saying there was. There are some who still believe this to be true though because they are distrusting survey bias, the gray area that some studies sit in. As pointed out by Remeo Vitelli in his article “Can Video Games Cause Violence”, “The debate over video games has led to a serious split between different groups of researchers which was as much about politics as research findings…lack of real consensus among researchers and the heated arguments they tend to make defending their own view.” Despite the general consensus about video games and violence many are distrusting of that information because some scientist tend to defend their own way of thinking only. This shows why there is a population of people who don’t trusts research. However, it’s important to realize that regardless of whether or not video games do cause violent behavior people still take to the internet looking for affirmation.
The final point is the idea that we can’t be split up into these three groups purely off of our search history. This point brings to light the idea that we are stuck in one of these roles for our entire lives. However, this is not the case. People are indeed multi faceted and we move through these different groups depending on the topic at hand, our social circle, and what we already know about the topic. These groups truly show our tendencies in tense political, and societal situations. When we are presented with something that shakes the foundation of what we believe we have a response. Whether that response is to try to reaffirm what we think or to prove others wrong just depends. In fact, it’s a person to person basis and not all people who search for gun control after a violent crime are validators. It definitely isn’t an exact science or anything but it’s clear to see that we seek a connection between these topics.
All in all, although there may be some holes in this idea it is still valid. We-as a race- seek to either sever or form a connection between violent media and violent crimes. This could be because we it’s connected to a hot topic issue of gun control. However, evidence seems to suggest that we do it to validate our own opinions. The distrust in studies done by researchers has lead to a gap in information that people have to fill themselves. In an attempt to fill this information gap, people take to the internet. In turn, the google searches these people conduct can reveal some things about their intentions, because people are more honest when it’s impersonal.
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
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.
Stephens-Davidowitz, S. (2017, July 09). Everybody lies: How Google search reveals our darkest secrets. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/09/everybody-lies-how-google-reveals-darkest-secrets-seth-stephens-davidowitz
Vitelli, R. (2013, April 1). Can Video Games Cause Violence? Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201304/can-video-games-cause-violence