Google Trends shows magnitude of Rob Ford story

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Photo: The Toronto Star

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Photo: The Toronto Star

The Rob Ford 'crack allegation' story has dominated headlines for the past week. In addition to the salacious nature of the allegations of drug use by the mayor of one of the largest cities in North America, there have been surreptitious meetings between journalists and drug dealers and high-profile references to a secret videotape that allegedly shows the Mayor smoking from what appears to be a crack pipe. 

The Mayor's response to the crisis has been anything but textbook crisis communications. For the first week following the allegations, he adopted a siege mentality, stonewalling the media. Then came the unceremonious sacking of the Mayor's chief of staff. And yesterday, we finally saw Mayor Rob Ford read a brief and carefully worded statement to the media and then retreat without taking any questions.

This story is far from being over. But just how big is it? Google Trends helps answer that question. If you're not familiar with it, Google Trends is a tool that shows how often a particular search term is entered relative to the total search volume on the Internet. You can segment it by region, time period, language and so on.

I used Google Trends to display the volume of news searches for the name 'Rob Ford' anywhere in the world in the past 30 days. Since you can compare a number of search terms on the same graph for comparison, I also entered several other popular search terms to provide added context, including 'Stephen Harper' (Canada's Prime Minister), 'Obama', 'Lady Gaga' and 'Hangover 3'. Here's what the results look like:

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Please remember, these results are based not just on search activity in Canada, but throughout the entire world. While President Obama (gold line) has the most news searches by far for his name in the past 30 days around the world, even he was eclipsed by Rob Ford (the blue line) in terms of search volumes this past week. Lady Gaga (the green line) gives an impressive showing over the course of the month, but over the past week or so, she was easily overtaken by Toronto's mayor. Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (red line) barely registers in comparison to these other search terms. And to show the true magnitude of this continuing story about Rob Ford, I wanted to compare it with Hangover 3 (purple line), a movie that is being heavily promoted and supported by millions of dollars in advertising. As you can see, compared with the ongoing scandal, the movie is just a blip on the radar.

The search terms I used here are hardly definitive. But by selecting a few prominent politicians, a pop star and a movie that Hollywood is proactively marketing, it helps to underscore the true scale and scope of the story that continues to dog Toronto's mayor.