Understanding Health Communication through Google Trends and News Coverage for COVID-19 : Multinational Study in Eight Countries

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Author(s)

  • Fengqiu Huang
  • Qiuyi Chen
  • Beiting Liang
  • Aoao Jiao
  • Taoran Liu
  • Huailiang Wu
  • Babatunde Akinwunmi
  • Jia Li
  • Guan Liu
  • Casper J.P. Zhang
  • Jian Huang
  • Qian Liu

Detail(s)

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere26644
Journal / PublicationJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Volume7
Issue number12
Online published21 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Link(s)

Abstract

Background: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, health information related to COVID-19 has spread across news media worldwide. Google is among the most used internet search engines, and the Google Trends tool can reflect how the public seeks COVID-19–related health information during the pandemic. 
Objective: The aim of this study was to understand health communication through Google Trends and news coverage and to explore their relationship with prevention and control of COVID-19 at the early epidemic stage. 
Methods: To achieve the study objectives, we analyzed the public’s information-seeking behaviors on Google and news media coverage on COVID-19. We collected data on COVID-19 news coverage and Google search queries from eight countries (ie, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand) between January 1 and April 29, 2020. We depicted the characteristics of the COVID-19 news coverage trends over time, as well as the search query trends for the topics of COVID-19–related “diseases,” “treatments and medical resources,” “symptoms and signs,” and “public measures.” The search query trends provided the relative search volume (RSV) as an indicator to represent the popularity of a specific search term in a specific geographic area over time. Also, time-lag correlation analysis was used to further explore the relationship between search terms trends and the number of new daily cases, as well as the relationship between search terms trends and news coverage. 
Results: Across all search trends in eight countries, almost all search peaks appeared between March and April 2020, and declined in April 2020. Regarding COVID-19–related “diseases,” in most countries, the RSV of the term “coronavirus” increased earlier than that of “covid-19”; however, around April 2020, the search volume of the term “covid-19” surpassed that of “coronavirus.” Regarding the topic “treatments and medical resources,” the most and least searched terms were “mask” and “ventilator,” respectively. Regarding the topic “symptoms and signs,” “fever” and “cough” were the most searched terms. The RSV for the term “lockdown” was significantly higher than that for “social distancing” under the topic “public health measures.” In addition, when combining search trends with news coverage, there were three main patterns: (1) the pattern for Singapore, (2) the pattern for the United States, and (3) the pattern for the other countries. In the time-lag correlation analysis between the RSV for the topic “treatments and medical resources” and the number of new daily cases, the RSV for all countries except Singapore was positively correlated with new daily cases, with a maximum correlation of 0.8 for the United States. In addition, in the time-lag correlation analysis between the overall RSV for the topic “diseases” and the number of daily news items, the overall RSV was positively correlated with the number of daily news items, the maximum correlation coefficient was more than 0.8, and the search behavior occurred 0 to 17 days earlier than the news coverage. 
Conclusions: Our findings revealed public interest in masks, disease control, and public measures, and revealed the potential value of Google Trends in the face of the emergence of new infectious diseases. Also, Google Trends combined with news media can achieve more efficient health communication. Therefore, both news media and Google Trends can contribute to the early prevention and control of epidemics.

Research Area(s)

  • COVID-19, Google Trends, News coverage, Public concerns, Search peaks

Citation Format(s)

Understanding Health Communication through Google Trends and News Coverage for COVID-19 : Multinational Study in Eight Countries. / Ming, Wai-Kit; Huang, Fengqiu; Chen, Qiuyi; Liang, Beiting; Jiao, Aoao; Liu, Taoran; Wu, Huailiang; Akinwunmi, Babatunde; Li, Jia; Liu, Guan; Zhang, Casper J.P.; Huang, Jian; Liu, Qian.

In: JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, Vol. 7, No. 12, e26644, 12.2021.

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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