July 19, 2022 | Press Release
COVID-19 Lockdowns: How to Use Google Searches to Understand Upsurges in Intimate Partner Violence
MPIDR Researcher Ebru Şanlıtürk and colleagues demonstrate in their recent study published in the “European Journal of Population” that Google Trends data are an effective tool to predict calls to domestic violence helplines and emergency numbers during the COVID-19 crisis.
“When we noticed that the frequency of intimate partner violence increased during the the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, we discussed as a team how to address this issue, both in terms of data sources and research methods “, says Ebru Şanlıtürk, a Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany.
Şanlıtürk and her three co-authors leverage digital trace data, data that are generated through user interactions online, rather than based on self reporting in surveys. This method is a way to bypass social biases related to issues that may be considered taboo — such as intimate partner violence.
The researchers demonstrate that Google Trends data are an effective tool to predict instances of intimate partner violence. When Google search data for specific phrases related to intimate partner violence was analyzed before and after the COVID-19 lockdowns in Italy, the daily Google searches significantly correlated to the number of calls to domestic violence helplines and emergency services after the lockdown. Their findings were recently published in the European Journal of Population.
Facebook survey validates Google search keywords
Since online Google searches often occur before calls are made to helplines, the researchers show that this time gap between the online search activity and the call for help was statistically significant. The researchers found that the correlation between the searches and calls for a one-week lag was more accurate than comparing the two within the same week. “In addition, we used an innovative validation method for our analysis: we ran a survey on Facebook to confirm the keywords people would use to search online for information related to intimate partner violence”, says Ebru Şanlıtürk. The researcher recommends running similar validation methods in future studies meant to capture online search activity.
Intimate partner violence needs more public awareness and prevention methods through policy-making. “We hope that the findings of this study provide a tool to better address the issue and help the victims.” says Ebru Şanlıtürk. The team is hopeful that policymakers will take these findings and consult similar data analysis to think about how to best devise systems to contain, minimize, and even anticipate surges in intimate partner violence, as well as consider how to allocate financial resources related to intimate partner violence.
Köksal, S., Pesando, L. M., Rotondi, V., Şanlıtürk, E.: Harnessing the Potential of Google Searches for Understanding Dynamics of Intimate Partner Violence Before and After the COVID-19 Outbreak. European Journal of Population (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s10680-022-09619-2
Authors and Affiliations
Selin Köksal, Bocconi University
Luca Maria Pesando, McGill University
Valentina Rotondi, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Italian Switzerland
Ebru Şanlıtürk, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock