Photo: Pexels
Photo: Pexels

Our search histories are our secret shame. From ridiculous medical emergencies to tutorials on how one could kill a person - Google and its brethren know us better than almost anybody else. This data, when collated, can present some rather disturbing trends hinting at, among other things, rising domestic violence, suicide, and femicide amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is more to it than what meets the eye.

Earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of General Psychology contended that if Google searches were any indication, domestic violence and attacks against women had increased manifold as the pandemic raged. The study by the deputy director of New Zealand's University of Otago had tracked Google searches in the US to come to its conclusion. Reportedly, the study contends that the phrases "How to control your woman" and “how to hit a woman so no one knows" were each googled 165 million times. Similarly problematic phrases such as "Help me, he won’t leave" was allegedly Googled over 1.2 billion times.

While the National Commission for Women in India had said something much along the same lines in 2020, the study does not hold up when one checks Google Trends. Indeed a quick perusal of the trends for the problematic phrases mentioned in Katerina Standish's study show no fluctuations. Some are uncommon enough that Google had no available trends for it. We conducted the Trends search for both the US and worldwide, seeing no major fluctuations of changes.

Published online in January this year, the study had drawn widespread news coverage in many foreign media platforms. But as the scrutiny grew, along came the fact checks. More recently, the story has been picked up by Indian media platforms, triggering fresh outrage. A Twitter handle, believed to be Standish's own has also also clarified that her methodology was "flawed".

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Free Press Journal