2012 on Google: A year of storms, dead celebrities, and Brazilian reality shows


Google’s 2012 Zeitgeist Report is out today, and it makes for predictably fascinating reading. The report tracks the top search terms from Google users around the world. These are the highest trending stories, defined by Google as having the “highest amount of traffic over a sustained period in 2012 as compared to 2011”. 

The top 10 list for the world reveals that internet users have an unending fascination for celebrities — especially dead ones: 

  1. Whitney Houston
  2. Gangnam Style
  3. Hurricane Sandy
  4. iPad 3
  5. Diablo 3
  6. Kate Middleton
  7. Olympics 2012
  8. Amanda Todd
  9. Michael Clarke Duncan
  10. BBB12

Whitney Houston I kind of understand, but the fascination with Green Mile star Michael Clarke Duncan’s death and the suicide of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd seem a little morbid. BBB12 is Brazilian Big Brother. Brazilians apparently love reading about TV on the internet, Brazilian shows accounted for 4 of the top 10 TV searches worldwide this year. (Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was the top American show in third place.)

Here are the top event searches worldwide. U.S. events definitely seem to dominate:

  1. Hurricane Sandy
  2. Kate Middleton Pictures Released
  3. Olympics 2012
  4. SOPA Debate
  5. Costa Concordia crash
  6. Presidential Debate
  7. Stratosphere Jump
  8. Penn State Scandal
  9. Trayvon Martin shooting
  10. Pussy Riots

What were Americans searching for the most in 2012? Mostly pop culture, with the exception of the election and Kony sneaking in at number 10:

  1. Whitney Houston
  2. Hurricane Sandy
  3. Election 2012
  4. Hunger Games
  5. Jeremy Lin
  6. Olympics 2012
  7. Amanda Todd
  8. Gangnam Style
  9. Michael Clarke Duncan
  10. KONY 2012


Contrast this with Egypt, where Google users seemed to be in a much more serious mood amid that country’s political tumult (Google translated):

Said events
Supreme Committee for Elections
Coordinating universities 2012
Tahrir Square
Nour Party
Freedom and justice
Mubarak trial
Presidential elections

Not a single videogame or reality show on there. Interestingly, “Burma” also turned up in the top searches for Saudi Arabia. Evidently, there was interest in the country’s political transition in the Arab world this year:

Student outcomes
Arab Idol
Ramadan Series 2012
Mohamed Morsi
Riyadh blast
Free Syrian Army
Shura Council
Hurricane Sandy


What were the Chinese searching for? Mostly TV and tech, with the exception of the Diaoyu islands and “sea anenome” — the Chinese name for the typhoon that hit the mainland last summer:

China’s voice
London Olympics
Jiangnan Style
Zhen Huan Chuan
Diaoyu Islands
Love apartment
God nine
Sea anemone
Android Games

It’s a bit grim to see “pulmonary carcinoid,” a type of lung cancer tumor, appear in Japan’s top searches, presumably due to fears from Fukushima fallout:

Solar Eclipse
Euro 2012
Pulmonary carcinoid
Tetsuo Kaneko
iPad mini
iOS 6 ”

Russians seem largely interested in how to watch stuff for free on the Internet:

watch movies online
Olympics 2012
Odnoklassniki social network
vkontakte my page
euro 2012
Eurovision 2012
magnificent century
2012 elections
new university dormitory 

What any of this means is debatable. We can admire the seriousness of Egypt’s politically-minded web searchers but it’s also a sign that the country’s attention is being dominated by political crisis. When a country’s more stable, it makes sense that web users are spending their time on Big Brother and Gangnam Style rather than riots and referendums. 

One country that really stands out is India:

  1. IBPS
  2. Gate Exams
  3. Sunny Leone
  4. Ek Tha Tiger
  5. Rowdy Rathore
  6. Cbse
  7. Rajesh Khanna
  8. Aakash Tablet
  9. Hdfc
  10. Jabong

The top two results are university entrance exams. The third is an Indian-American porn star (SFW). Glad it’s not all work and no play over there. 

Foreign Policy



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