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Google Trends – Measuring Social Impact and the Abolition Movement

08 Jan 2009, by elance programmer in Uncategorized

With the Jan 11 Human trafficking Awareness Day fast approaching, I thought it might be useful to address the question "what is the awareness level of human trafficking/slavery and how has it been changing". How has the abolition movement been doing? I am aware of no decent surveys that measure, let alone show trends in slavery awareness so I have to look to other tools to try to get a sense on how things are going. Antidotal observations include : there are certainly a lot more non-profits dedicated to abolition, there are lot more books available, and there has been a lot more press. But what about the public? What does the public know and do they care about slavery?

Enter Google Trends, which I have found to be a great tool for evaluating public sentiment and interest. Google trends is a very simple tool that lets anyone evaluate what keywords the world is searching for. In addition to showing search trends over time, it lets you compare search terms and even drill down to look at how the trends vary by location.

So lets dig into the question of awareness about slavery and human trafficking. We have to be careful to choose good target terms. For example, since there is an historical interest in slavery which makes it a more common search, Ill start with Human Trafficking.

Human Trafficking as per Google Trends

The top part of the graph is the search trend for 'Human Trafficking" . It was a pretty flat line until late 2005, when Lifetime TV showed the film Human Trafficking. So far, that made for TV film has been the single most important moment in trafficking awareness. After that film, the average search traffic seems to have doubled, and that’s good news. The bad news though is that the basic trend is still flat. Over the last three years, interest in human trafficking has been going nowhere.

The bottom part of the graph is news stories, and as you can see, the press has been writing a lot more about human trafficking. So we cant really use this tool to know about true awareness as it only shows that people have not been increasingly using the web to learn more about trafficking. So because of the increased press, the books, the blogs, etc, perhaps more people are aware of human trafficking but just don’t care to learn more.

Lets look at a few more charts related to the abolition movement, then Ill use Google Trends to compare the abolition movement to other causes.

Trafficking searches by region

human trafficking vs sex trafficking search

One of the great things about Google trends is that it lets us compare the search traffic, thus arguably the awareness about different social issues. Lets compare "human trafficking" to" Darfur"

As you can see, public awareness and press coverage of the genocide in Darfur is crushing awareness of human trafficking. There are many reasons why there is such a big gap and in the future I hope to blog about this one comparison in great detail.

For now though, lets focus on two simple conclusions:

  1. The Abolition movement has a long way to go – awareness of trafficking pales in comparison to other cause (more below), and
  2. We have a lot to learn, but the anti-genocide folks are our peers and their techniques are an open book – so if the abolition community can come together like the genocide community has, we can do a lot in a short time.

Here are a few more charts. Some are intended to be silly, but they all give you a sense of what is important to people. I'd love to see any interesting charts you can come up with.

trafficking vs breast cancer

5 COMMENTS
  • Anonymous Reply

    You are so the investment banker at heart – all these numbers and graphs! John, I’m glad you are. It is good to see that there are metrics out there and that your are using your good sense to put them to good use!
    The work you and Sarah do is amazing.
    Rock On!
    CreativeWisdom

  • Potential Abolitionist! Reply

    This is very interesting and it is a good point that one can do good work in obscurity for ever unless you get on the marketing bandwagon. I hear coverage on NPR on occasion, and I admit that I do not watch TV, so I can’t say how the networks are doing. Darfur gets coverage because its about all those little boys forced into brutal warfare and made to kill their families. I agree that one would think coverage of underage girls forced into prostitution would be prurient enough to get air time….Is it ambivalence to the plight of women? Or do you need a publicist?

  • Potential Abolitionist! Reply

    Thanks for the lens

    John, having recently returned from the TEN Kolkata trip and just recovering from my jet lag… I loved this post, simply loved it! I look forward to working with you. I have always seen numbers as a lens for interpretation of facts and trends, and the figures here were very enlightening, particularly the ones comparing non traficking related issues to traficking ones. Really puts things in perspective.

    I look forward to more.
    Susan

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