The UCOVI Blog

The UCOVI Blog

UK Google Trends - Politics, Porn and Pandemic

Ned Stratton: 15th October 2020

"Coronavirus" vs "COVID" vs "Brexit" vs "porn"

I was told on an intro course on data visualisation a few years ago that Google Trends data is so reliable because with their web searches, people tell Google things about themselves they'd never share with colleagues, friends or relatives.

Having used the lockdown of spring/summer 2020 (and beyond...) to build my data blog, I've found it an invaluable resource of insight to support points I was making in articles. While I was using it to research part two of the Power BI end-game series, I let my procrastinative curiosity run its course. Eventually I found myself searching - topic of our times but completely unrelated to what I was writing - which was the more popular: Coronavirus or COVID?

Look at the Google Trends line chart below (which covers UK searches over the past 5 years). Coronavirus (yellow) rocketed in searches when the pandemic started, but faded just as quickly. Its search prominence stabilised from June onwards, but has continued to be more frequent than searches for Brexit (red) ever were, even during the week of the referendum in June 2016! I find this amazing, given that it seemed over 3 years that the news barely reported on anything else and it was a topic so polarising that it split households, friendships and marriages.

COVID (green) meanwhile never went off the scale like Coronavirus did, but has been neck and neck with porn (blue) since about a month into the pandemic, and since September has overtaken Coronavirus in search prominence. I can only assume that after 6 months, people are fed up typing 11 characters into their search engine and prefer 5. Or that typing "Corona..." gets you the light beer instead, which would be welcome news for them.

Lastly, I added porn into the comparison because I wanted to test the Coronavirus mania against something prominent, and at the same time consistent. Porn certainly is that, showing on first glance a flat blue line over a 5-year span, prominent enough to beat Brexit at all times bar referendum day, but made pale in its insignificance by the initial surge of Coronavirus interest.

But porn as a Google search trend deserves closer examination. Below is the Google Trends chart showing it on its own in blue over the same period. This allows us to hone in on the seasonality, and at 5 points porn provides larger-than-normal peaks (no pun intended). It turns out these peaks are always the week of Christmas and New Year!

I'm at a loss to suggest a reason for this other than the tedium of Christmas movies, students being back home in the family nest and deprived of the romantic stimulation of their attractive coursemates, or a hitherto undetected aphrodisiac effect in mince pies.

Either way, it seems people ask Santa for some things but Google for something else altogether...

The Swiss Army Knife of Data - useful small tricks for working with data (09/09/2021) ⏪ ⏩ How the UK broadcast media have misreported the data on COVID-19 (07/10/2020)

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