A word cloud of the top 25 rising terms on Google Search over the year 2020 in Syria. The size of each term is proportional to its increase in popularity. (Syria Direct)
AMMAN — Google Trends aggregates data in real time from search queries all over the world. The data can be used to identify popular search terms, monitor how interest in certain topics evolves over time, and map connections between search queries.
In the case of Syria, a look at Google Trends data for the year 2020 offers a glimpse into the daily lives of Syrians across the country, including the prominence of fuel shortages, the currency crisis and coronavirus.
Main trends: Social media, coronavirus and economic woes
This analysis is based on the list of the 25 “top” and 25 “rising” search terms in Syria throughout the year 2020.
“Top” search terms, according to Google Trends, encompass the most popular search terms throughout the selected period. Over the past year, Syria’s top searches were dominated by common social media platforms and services, notably translation – which could indicate high interest in foreign entertainment and news outlets. This is in line with top Google searches in other countries. In the United States, for example, the top Google searches are similarly dominated by queries for social media platforms and services, including Gmail, Maps and Google Docs.
The top search term in Syria over the past year was “صور” (“picture” – a term used to search for the Google Images platform). Social media-related queries included searches for Facebook (or just “Face”), WhatsApp, Youtube and Twitter. Some news-related topics also broke into the top queries, such as “coronavirus” and the daily exchange rate of the Syrian pound.
“Rising” queries experienced the sharpest increase in search frequency since the beginning of the search period. This includes “breakout” results, which experienced “tremendous increase, probably because these queries are new and had few (if any) prior searches,” according to Google Trends.
Several coronavirus-related terms, including “coronavirus” and “coronavirus symptoms,” were among the rising queries of 2020 due both to the recent nature of the pandemic and the high level of interest it attracted.
Economic concerns also featured prominently, concentrated around searches about the daily exchange rate of the Syrian pound following the collapse of the currency in June, which drastically affected the cost of living.
More mundanely, other rising searches included queries for the results of a national exam (نتائج التاسع 2020), news about a Syrian celebrity (دانا جبر), and the weather forecast.
Regional differences in search topics
The geographical distribution of searches reveals different daily experiences of Syrians in the three regions controlled by different political entities. The maps below highlight the varying popularity of four rising search topics across Syrian provinces, and the data mirrors the significant differences in daily experiences of Syrians in these areas.
Interest around the top COVID-19-related search word “corona” varied across Syrian provinces and peaked in regime-held areas, notably in Damascus, Reef Dimashq, Daraa and Latakia. The regime-held areas have been widely affected by the pandemic, but data made available by the Ministry of Health is severely underestimated, according to most analysts. To note, the map does not reflect data aggregated for all coronavirus-related search words (such as “coronavirus”, “corona symptoms”, etc.).
Related queries peaked in March, April and July.
The Syrian Pound: The top rising topic?
Queries around the daily rate of the Syrian pound multiplied across Syria, as reflected by the fact that nine out of the 25 “rising” search terms are linked to this topic. Searches were particularly high around the capital Damascus and in Aleppo, the economic hubs of the country. To note, regions of northeast Syria, controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-affiliated Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), seemed to have been less affected, perhaps due to the growing “dollarization” of the economy.
Weather searches peak in northwest Syria as floods hit
Unsurprisingly, the top rise in searches about the weather was recorded in Idlib, an area affected each winter by heavy rains and floods. The striking geographic disparity between weather searches in Idlib, compared to the rest of the country, indicates that weather is a significant preoccupation for the residents of northwest Syria, especially as displacement further exposes them to its fallout.
“Way-in,” an indicator of the oil crisis in Syria
Finally, searches for downloading the mobile application “Way-in” (وين) peaked in May and September, particularly in the peripheral provinces under the regime’s control, including Suwayda, Hama, and Tartus. “Way-in” is a mobile application that helps users determine which gas stations have fuel available. The increase in queries for the app is a reflection of the growing fuel crisis in the regime-held areas, where long queues have been reported at fuel stations. The relatively low number of queries in Latakia, compared to the neighboring province of Tartus, could reflect greater availability of fuel in local stations due to the presence of the Latakia port, through which fuel imports transit.