Queries as a pioneering measure of public attention on various social issues have elicited considerable scholarly attention. The purpose of this paper is to address two fundamental questions, as follows: first, how do we identify niche queries that internet users search for on specific social issues?; and second, what are the measurement properties of queries data in gauging public attention on social issues?
The present study uses public attention on environmental issues in the USA as the empirical setting of research. An iterative framework is developed to identify niche queries to measure public attention on environmental issues. The measurement properties of queries data are assessed by comparing the dynamics of public attention on environmental issues captured by queries data with that measured by the “most important problem” (MIP) question in Gallup opinion polls.
A list of 39 niche queries that internet users search for on environmental issues is identified. The dynamics of public attention on environmental issues determined by the search trends of these 39 queries is found to positively correlate with that measured by Gallup MIP polls, whereas both dynamics can forecast each other well in a 12-month time frame.
The findings of the study possess methodological and practical implications. The study shows that queries data are complementary to, rather than substitutes of, public opinion polls in measuring public attention on environmental issues. The iterative framework developed in the study can be applied in future studies to help researchers identify valid queries to measure public attention on other social issues, as it can minimize researchers’ subjective biases in selecting search queries. Policymakers and environmentalists can utilize our approach to monitor the status of public attention on environmental issues and implement campaigns to mobilize favorable public opinion when the decline of public attention is predicted by the trends of web search queries.
The authors would like to thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. The study was supported by a Start-Up Grant (M4081281.060) from Nanyang Technological University.
Qin, J. and Peng, T.-Q. (2016), "Googling environmental issues: Web search queries as a measurement of public attention on environmental issues", Internet Research, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 57-73. https://doi.org/10.1108/IntR-04-2014-0104Download as .RIS
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