Search data only tells part of the story

I understand what Qualman is getting at this week, that search data can be used for many things to make the world a better place. It does bother me that he conveniently leaves out that this information should be used with caution, since it only tells part of the story. His example of search trends between “Obama” and “McCain” before the presidential election indicates that they were searched for, but there is no information about what searchers were looking for, or when they looked at in the results. This information was introduced as valid, but potential limitations were only alluded to. 

Qualman describes a future where we might use online voting, but I have strong reservations about that. Our current voting procedures are far from perfect, but at least most involve some sort of verifiable paper trail. Online voting would do away with that safeguard. I understand the excitement and convenience factors, but we need to make sure to proceed with caution. There is already a lot of potential for voter fraud under our current methods. I would hope that we hold off until we can guarantee that each vote is correctly accounted for before we proceed.

The Death of Social Schizophrenia was interesting to me. The chapter indicates that people are better off being comfortable with who they are rather than trying to be someone they are not, but then it provides several examples of people who paid the consequences for being genuine or sharing too much on social media. That seems like a contradiction to me. Then there was another example of an organization creating false accounts to screen potential job candidates, which to me seems like a different form of social schizophrenia. He advocates being comfortable with who you are, but also exercising strong self-censorship. That is probably good advice for anyone to follow.

The section on marketing hit home for me because I studied advertising in college. I appreciate the marketing philosophy of today because of the emphasis on being upfront and honest about the product. The prevalence of social media pretty much requires this approach if companies hope to succeed. 

I’m a fan of online forums, and I have seen several companies pay the price for bad service, poor products, or false advertising. Almost no company is immune to the potential destructive power of social media. It is essential for them to operate more transparently and honestly, or they taunt the wraith of social media users.

Posted on October 6, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I thought it was interesting that the readings mentioned that people having different personas are a thing of the past. I really feel like to some extent that can never happen. Most people at work will portray themselves in a more professional way than if they’re talking with their friends over a beer. This is why privacy settings on social media is such a big thing. Some of my friends have privacy settings set so high that you can’t even find their profiles. This does bring up the question of what the person may be hiding that they need to keep things so private, but also allows the person to have a different “life” than what they have at work.

  2. You make a great point about the problems with using search data to predict election results. We have no idea why people would search for either candidate, and you’re right that that could cause election predictions to be completely wrong if based purely on the number of searches for a given candidate. I also reacted with surprise and caution at the thought that voting would be done online in the future, but when I read Qualman’s point that most big technological problems (like preventing voter fraud in an online environment) are solvable, I concluded that he is probably right, and that our current system sometimes fails to prevent voter fraud too.

    I also found the “be who you are all the time, but be really careful about what that looks like” (or what you refer to as “self censorship”) message to be rather contradictory. I think that really is the message though- watch yourself all the time to make sure you never act so inappropriate that you wouldn’t want your boss to know about your behavior, but also be who you are at work because it’s too difficult and stressful not to be. I’m not sure this is good advice for everyone, although I tend to not say or post anything on social media that I would be uncomfortable with people in my professional life seeing.

    • People could be searching for a political candidate because they are looking for negative information about them, not because they are fans, or plan on voting for them! So, I agree that online search data may be misleading.

      I think Qualman’s idea about self censorship makes sense, although contradictory. Be yourself, but not too much. This is why I am very careful about anything I post, even if it seems harmless. Like a Facebook status update that says, “Long day at work. Looking forward to cracking open a beer tonight.” I don’t even post that stuff any more in case a future employer or a client happens across it. They might wonder, hmmm, sounds she deals with stress by consuming alcohol. Does she have a drinking problem? Maybe that’s an extreme case, but you get what I’m saying.

  3. Take the political spin out of the Google search trends. The idea that people go to the internet to look up symptoms of what ails them before they call the doctor is very true with many people I know. If they are representative of average America, I can see how searches for flu like symptoms could be a good indicator of certain illnesses, especially if you can see a noticeable spike in those trends. Web design involves paying close attention to search trends when it comes to a company’s site so you can better funnel information to the correct pages. If it can be an accurate predictor for company information, I am sure it can also be an accurate predictor for many other, less controversial, topics.

  4. evelynmartens13

    You make some good points about the use of statistics and critical thinking. I went to these two sites after reading Qualman’s chapter:

    Pew Internet,;

    and from the Journal of Political Marketing,

    Click to access JPM_MGC_final.pdf

    Both tell essentially the same broad narrative as Qualman but the data is vetted better and conclusions are somewhat less proclamatory. It seems clear that youth and Internet use/engagement in politics are somehow correlative. I don’t offer these as proof of anything but only to affirm your point that we always have to consider what is left out as much as what is left in.

    I am least convinced when he claims that internet/SM use is making us all more productive and authentic. In some ways, I do find myself much more effective, productive, and empowered by the Internet at times. Just recently, I have been dealing with a significant medical crisis in my family, and I’m finding that the information I’m using/sharing with the doctors is getting some traction. One doctor asked ME what I had found in my research, so I know he was taking me seriously (though the idea that he was asking me that question frightened me a bit). I can’t imagine feeling as “armed” with information before the advent of the Internet.

    On the other hand, I am simply less than convinced that the Internet/SM is prompting everyone to go out and live their lives rather than vicariously live through others. As you say, it sometimes seems intrinsically contradictory.

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