After PV Sindhu won the silver medal for India in badminton at the Rio Olympics, most media publications focused on her tremendous achievement. But soon after, another story started to gain traction: the one about “millions of Indians” performing Google searches for the key term ‘PV Sindhu caste’. The News Minute brought the story to the limelight, and soon mainstream publications were giving it major play. (The News Minute later retracted the story and said they had gone “horribly wrong”.)
I don’t want to get into the details of the story in terms of tonality and symbolism, as I want this piece to be a clarification based on data more than anything else. I have no opinion on whether or not people should have been searching for these terms – I have little understanding of these things. Please read this article strictly from a data perspective.
Following the articles about the searches (which had gone viral), another independent publication challenged media houses saying that the data was wrong. They asserted that according to data, it was not factually correct to say that “millions of Indians” had been searching for ‘PV Sindhu caste’, and in fact the spike of interest in her caste was very limited (they said the number was around 2100 searches).
The article was shared extensively, with most people sharing it accusing media companies of being ignorant about data and of “spreading lies”.
Actually, the article is correct only in its criticism of one publication, thenewsminute.com, which claimed the numbers were in “millions”. The News Minute cannot claim the number was in millions, since that data is simply not available. To be very clear, the issue is not if the searches were made in the millions or not, the issue is that data is not available since the number of searches is not known (Even Keyword planner tool is not the right measure for it, which in any case does not have August data as of now).
BUT, India Facts’ claim that the increase was very limited is ALSO inaccurate. The claim that media houses got it wrong is similarly wrong.
Here is the data to prove that the spike in interest in PV Sindhu’s caste was significant. On August 20, 2016, the term ‘Sindhu Caste’ and ‘PV Sindhu Caste’ were trending higher than search terms like ‘Narendra Modi’, ‘Arvind Kejriwal’, ‘Alia Bhatt’, ‘Amitabh Bachchan’, ‘Mahendra Singh Dhoni’ and even ‘Sachin Tendulkar’. This is significant data:
If ‘Sindhu caste’ and ‘PV Sindhu caste’ have come close to these highly searched keywords, it can be easily inferred that the search volume was indeed on the rise. At least one assertion is absolutely clear — ‘PV Sindhu Caste’ and ‘Sindhu caste’ was trending in search as much or more than ‘Narendra Modi’, ‘Sachin Tendulkar’ and many other highly searched keywords on August 20, 2016.
Another claim made by India Facts was that the search term ‘PV Sindhu Caste’ had almost the same spike as terms like ‘PV Sindhu Mother’, ‘PV Sindhu Father’. This is also not true. Please see the graph below – it is very clear that the number of searches for ‘PV Sindhu caste’ and ‘Sindhu caste’ were far more than for ‘PV Sindhu Mother’ and ‘PV Sindhu Father’. This clearly states that the caste-based keywords were searched much more than other keywords related to PV Sindhu:
Understanding Breakout Scenario
Another important thing to understand in terms of increase in search volume is the term “Breakout” on Google trends. This term means that the increase in search volume for a particular search term in a given period is over 5000%.
Let’s see how this works. If ordinarily, there are X number of searches using that term, on the day of the spike it became 50X. Basically, the search volume increased 50 times. That is the minimum increase in a ‘Breakout’ scenario on Google trends. Here is the definition of a Breakout scenario:
Here’s a screenshot showing that ‘PV Sindhu caste’ was a ‘Breakout’ search term:
As an example, let’s look at the search surge for Katrina Kaif in the last 30 days with the upcoming release of her film “Baar Baar Dekho”. If you look at ‘Related queries’ at the bottom right, you will see a percentage increase like “Baar Baar Dekho +1000%”, “Katrina Kaif Abs +600%”.
Similarly when we look for ‘Sindhu Caste’, we can see various search keywords showing “Breakout” at the bottom right, relating to Sindhu caste. Breakout, as explained earlier, is 5000%+ increase. This proves that there is 50x increase on some of the keywords related to Sindhu’s caste:
So, taking these two scenarios into consideration:
- ‘Breakout’ indicates a minimum 50x or 5000%+ increase in search volume.
- Search volume on “Sindhu caste” keywords did cross the benchmark set by search terms related to some very eminent personalities of India on August 19* and 20, and this is a high benchmark.
I think we can clearly draw an assertion from these facts that the search volume for ‘Sindhu Caste’ was significant, and the surge was over 50x.
Signing off with the reminder that this is just a data discussion.
*Update: To be fair, one can argue that search volumes peaked the day after the story became a controversy. However, as you can see from the screenshots below, these trends started showing on the 19th of August, a day before The News Minute article was published.
About the author: Sandeep Amar is a digital enthusiast, and has been in leadership positions in digital media.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the views of FactorDaily.
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