After trillions and trillions of searches, data from Google Trends for 2018 tells us more than a few things. First, that people were deeply invested in the midterm elections. Second, they were really into the World Cup. And third, apparently everyone plays the video game "Fortnite."
WASHINGTON — After trillions and trillions of searches, data from Google Trends for 2018 tells us a few things. First, that people were deeply invested in the midterm elections. The top two “how to” Google searches were were “how to vote” and “how to register to vote.”
Second: They were really, really into the World Cup in Russia. Both globally and in the U.S. — whose team didn’t even qualify.
The fact that the World Cup was No. 1 in the U.S. surprised Google Search Trends Expert Molly VandenBerg.
“Obviously, the World Cup is a big moment,” VandenBerg told WTOP, “but it was surprising to me because of the fact that the U.S. didn’t qualify, so we didn’t necessarily directly participate, but to still see it trend and to see people really come together over that and get excited over that was pretty cool.”
Another turn for 2018 is that social media stars have become celebrities in their own right and can’t just be considered a fleeting part of a media platform.
For example, the most-searched person in the “actor” category was 23-year-old Logan Paul, a controversial figure who got his start on YouTube.
“I think that that’s pretty indicative of the time that we’re in, and that’s what we hope to accomplish with ‘Year in Searches’ — what made 2018 unique?” VandenBerg said.
Paul infamously posted video of him in a forest near Mount Fuji in Japan near what seemed to be a body hanging from a tree. YouTube says the images violated its policies and suspended the 22-year-old.
He afterward called the posting a “horrible lack of judgment.” He says he’ll “think twice … maybe three times” about what he posts.
The video was viewed some 6 million times before being removed from Paul’s YouTube channel, a verified account with more than 15 million subscribers.
While clamoring for details about an actor might seem frivolous to some, the top trending “how to” searches were focused on voting and the midterm elections.
“Which I also think is indicative of the time, with the midterm elections and the way that people are really engaging with that and figuring out how they can participate,” VandenBerg told WTOP.
People ask Google all sorts of questions.
“It’s interesting to see the types of questions people ask that span so many different topics,” VandenBerg explained.
Those topics run the gamut from voting to payment processor Ripple to disabling automatic updates and the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
Much of the data point to users wanting to track down actionable information.
“I think it depends on what exactly they’re searching for, but with things like ‘how to vote,’ I think that it’s a good indicator that people are looking to get out there and do it so they want to know how,” VandenBerg said.
One conclusion that can be gleaned from the broader digital landscape of Google search results is that people want to educate themselves. From basic fact-checking to–during March Madness–where Villanova University is located.
“That one was a little bit sore for me because I’m actually a Michigan fan and of course Villanova beat Michigan in that tournament this year,” VandenBerg laughed.
Still, the point remains. People “absolutely want to know, they want to be able to have that knowledge of what’s happening around them and be able to converse about it and have the latest,” VandenBerg said.
For example, “government shutdown” was a trending search specifically in the D.C. area.
“In the areas where people are, and the things that impact their day-to-day, they want to be able to keep up to date on it and make sure that they have the latest,” VandenBerg told WTOP.
“I think that Google is really the place where people come to be able to discover this information in so many different ways — from what the weather is outside to … how to vote, to these larger questions, to very quick answers,” she said. “There’s so much to uncover.”
How does Google see its role?
“Our goal is to be able to surface the most relevant information that we can for folks so that way they can be informed, so that way they can go about their day feeling like they know what’s going on and can engage in society,” VandenBerg explained. “So that’s kind of what I see us doing — being able to provide that information and surface relevant results as much as we can.”
Then there’s the shockingly popular Fortnite, which Google data show was trending in three separate categories: video games, gifs and “how to get boogie down emote.”
Apparently everyone plays Fortnite.
“This has been the one struggle of my job this year — I do not play Fortnite, and I’m trying really hard to understand, but I do know that it’s captured a lot of people’s attention,” VandenBerg told WTOP.
For the record, the author doesn’t play Fortnite either.
“We’re in it together, I appreciate that,” VandenBerg said with a laugh.
William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.