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Using Web-Based Search Data to Study the Public ’ s Reactions to Societal Events: The Case of the Sandy Hook Shooting

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ABSTRACT

Background: Internet search is the most common activity on the World Wide Web and generates a vast amount of user-reported data regarding their information-seeking preferences and behavior. Although this data has been successfully used to examine outbreaks, health care utilization, and outcomes related to quality of care, its value in informing public health policy remains unclear.

Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of Internet search query data in health policy development. To do so, we studied the public’s reaction to a major societal event in the context of the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting incident.

Methods: Query data from the Yahoo! search engine regarding firearm-related searches was analyzed to examine changes in user-selected search terms and subsequent websites visited for a period of 14 days before and after the shooting incident.

Results: A total of 5,653,588 firearm-related search queries were analyzed. In the after period, queries increased for search terms related to “guns” (+50.06%), “shooting incident” (+333.71%), “ammunition” (+155.14%), and “gun-related laws” (+535.47%). The highest increase (+1054.37%) in Web traffic was seen by news websites following “shooting incident” queries whereas searches for “guns” (+61.02%) and “ammunition” (+173.15%) resulted in notable increases in visits to retail websites. Firearm-related queries generally returned to baseline levels after approximately 10 days.

Conclusions: Search engine queries present a viable infodemiology metric on public reactions and subsequent behaviors to major societal events and could be used by policymakers to inform policy development.

No MeSH data available.


Trends in website visits by advocacy view. Source: Authors’ analysis of Yahoo! search queries for December 2012.
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figure2: Trends in website visits by advocacy view. Source: Authors’ analysis of Yahoo! search queries for December 2012.

Mentions: Figure 1 presents the trend data graphed in the before and after period for firearm-related and bicycle-related searches for 4 categories of TLDs. As can be seen, Web traffic as a result of firearm-related search queries saw a sharp increase corresponding to the Sandy Hook shooting incident for domains of commercial entities, educational institutions, government entities, and noncommercial organizations. Additionally, depending on the TLD, a relatively smaller peak in Web traffic is seen at days 6 and 11 before the shooting incident following firearm-related searches, with the greatest increase seen for .com domains. Conversely, bicycle-related searches during the same period appear relatively unchanged. Figure 2 presents the trend data graphed in the before and after period for firearm-related search queries for advocacy view. Websites of both gun control and gun rights advocacy groups saw a sharp increase in traffic corresponding to the shooting incident following firearm-related searches. The traffic decreased slowly for both over the after period with slight increase in traffic at day 11.


Using Web-Based Search Data to Study the Public ’ s Reactions to Societal Events: The Case of the Sandy Hook Shooting
Trends in website visits by advocacy view. Source: Authors’ analysis of Yahoo! search queries for December 2012.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC5383805&req=5

figure2: Trends in website visits by advocacy view. Source: Authors’ analysis of Yahoo! search queries for December 2012.
Mentions: Figure 1 presents the trend data graphed in the before and after period for firearm-related and bicycle-related searches for 4 categories of TLDs. As can be seen, Web traffic as a result of firearm-related search queries saw a sharp increase corresponding to the Sandy Hook shooting incident for domains of commercial entities, educational institutions, government entities, and noncommercial organizations. Additionally, depending on the TLD, a relatively smaller peak in Web traffic is seen at days 6 and 11 before the shooting incident following firearm-related searches, with the greatest increase seen for .com domains. Conversely, bicycle-related searches during the same period appear relatively unchanged. Figure 2 presents the trend data graphed in the before and after period for firearm-related search queries for advocacy view. Websites of both gun control and gun rights advocacy groups saw a sharp increase in traffic corresponding to the shooting incident following firearm-related searches. The traffic decreased slowly for both over the after period with slight increase in traffic at day 11.

View Article: PubMed Central - HTML - PubMed

ABSTRACT

Background: Internet search is the most common activity on the World Wide Web and generates a vast amount of user-reported data regarding their information-seeking preferences and behavior. Although this data has been successfully used to examine outbreaks, health care utilization, and outcomes related to quality of care, its value in informing public health policy remains unclear.

Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of Internet search query data in health policy development. To do so, we studied the public’s reaction to a major societal event in the context of the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting incident.

Methods: Query data from the Yahoo! search engine regarding firearm-related searches was analyzed to examine changes in user-selected search terms and subsequent websites visited for a period of 14 days before and after the shooting incident.

Results: A total of 5,653,588 firearm-related search queries were analyzed. In the after period, queries increased for search terms related to “guns” (+50.06%), “shooting incident” (+333.71%), “ammunition” (+155.14%), and “gun-related laws” (+535.47%). The highest increase (+1054.37%) in Web traffic was seen by news websites following “shooting incident” queries whereas searches for “guns” (+61.02%) and “ammunition” (+173.15%) resulted in notable increases in visits to retail websites. Firearm-related queries generally returned to baseline levels after approximately 10 days.

Conclusions: Search engine queries present a viable infodemiology metric on public reactions and subsequent behaviors to major societal events and could be used by policymakers to inform policy development.

No MeSH data available.