Here is what Google Trends say on what was most searched when Covid-19 was at its peak in 2020
By Nabeela Khan
The pandemic brought along with it a few health protocols – recommended by the WHO and the CDC, as also various governments. Wearing a mask, washing hands regularly with soap, use of infrared thermometers and sanitizers signified a “new normal”.
We tracked Google Trends at different points in 2020, to get a sense of what people were searching for. Here are some interesting insights: We also found that around the same period that the search trends peaked, there were social media posts propagating some misinformation around these.
Wearing a mask
“Side Effects of Masks” was one of the terms that was widely searched. This is not surprising because wearing a mask was something new to everyone, and there was curiosity and anxiety around wearing masks. In September 2020, a social media post claiming wearing a face mask causes cancer due to oxygen deficiency was widely shared online. The post also stressed that the root cause of cancer is oxygen deficiency and highlighted, “all forms of cancer have two basic conditions: acidosis and HYPOXIA (LACK OF OXYGEN: MASKS)”.
Not surprisingly, the term ‘side-effects of masks’ was widely searched between August to October, 2020.
The search phrase “side-effects of infra-red thermometer” peaked between July 28th to September 12th, 2020 with highest searches from Malaysia, followed by India and United States.
There have been multiple theories revolving around infrared thermometers – from claims that it may blind you or may impact your neurons, to claims that it damages brain causing cancer. These claims were widely shared in Malaysia from mid-July to July end. The National Metrology Institute of Malaysia had to explain through a Facebook post that infrared thermometers are safe followed by multiple fact-checks and statements by Malaysian Ministry of Health.
Use of Sanitisers
Sanitizers were central to a lot of searches. The phrase “does sanitizer cause cancer” was most searched in the month of May and June, 2020. Google Trends data shows that this search was popular only in India. Interest in this topic was not recorded from any other region other than India.
The reason could also be false social media posts claiming that using hand sanitiser continuously can cause harmful skin diseases or cancer around the same time in May. Clearly, there is no scientific evidence to back this claim and India’s Press Information Bureau’s fact check clarified in a tweet saying, “this information is false. Use of hand sanitizers does not harm humans. Hand sanitizers with 70% alcohol content are recommended for protection against #COVID”.