Monday, August 2, 2010

Just how kinky is Pakistan?

Fox News recently ran a controversial story claiming that Pakistani people use Google to look up pornography more than other nationalities.

Pakistan is top dog in searches per-person for "horse sex" since 2004, "donkey sex" since 2007, "rape pictures" between 2004 and 2009, "rape sex" since 2004, "child sex" between 2004 and 2007 and since 2009, "animal sex" since 2004 and "dog sex" since 2005, according to Google Trends and Google Insights, features of Google that generate data based on popular search terms.

The country also is tops -- or has been No. 1 -- in searches for "sex," "camel sex," "rape video," "child sex video" and some other searches that can't be printed here.

The headline called Pakistan "Pornistan".

The first surprise for me was that this took mainstream media so long to report. I have been reading online discussions of the wide range of sex-related search terms supposedly associated with Pakistani Google users for years. Some of these debaters argued that this indicated something fundamental - and dysfunctional - about Pakistan: inhabitants of the sexually conservative "land of the pure" looking up donkey porn.

There are problems though. First, Google Trends shows the popularity of search terms as a proportion of all terms searched in a given region, not, as the Fox journalist claims "per person". If the demographics of internet users in that region are skewed in any way we would expect skewed Trends results since men and women of various ages presumably search for quite different things. World Bank puts internet users in Pakistan at 18.5 million, around 11% of the total population (compared with 62.7% in Ireland). If that 11% is not a representative cross-section of Pakistan's population then the Trends results tell us little about the rest of the country.

Another obvious weakness is that Google is not a necessary step to accessing pornography, as one conservative Pakistani pointed out to me some years back. He had been attacking "the West" for its sexual hedonism so I pointed out the list of pornographic terms Pakistanis appeared to be searching online. He rebuked me with the angry explanation that wank-savvy Westerners probably had porn toolbars running across the top of their browsers whereas Pakistani porn users were naively going through Google. He seemed to know quite a bit about it.

A third concern is that Trends results show what words or terms are searched, even when they were searched along with other unknown words. For example, a Trends result for "child sex" would include data from a search by a journalist for "clerical child sex abuse scandal" - a completely different meaning.

In any case journalists began to pick apart the Fox story, this one from Pakistan's Daily Times pointing out that while "donkey sex" has high results in Pakistan, "sex with donkey" is topped by the US.

Along similar lines, the US has also been ranked #1 or #2, for the period 2004 through 2010, for the following terms that are slight modifications of terms in the original article: ‘Sex with school child’, ‘sex with farm animals’ and ‘sex with camel’. Pakistan was not ranked in the top ten countries for any of these search terms.

Google itself threw Fox's results into doubt, remarking in a statement to Pakistan's Dawn that "the results for a given query, such as those reported in this story from Pakistan, may contain inaccuracies because the sample size is too small for the results to be statistically sound." Meanwhile a Pakistani friend drew my attention to his own research:

I seriously doubt the method by which Google trends articulate results. Not that I'm saying Pakistanis don't watch porn, but there seems to be some problem. For instance, I put "rat sex" in Google trend and Pakistan popped up on the top.

http://www.google.com/trends?q=rat+sex

Now, who imagines about "rat sex", a seriously impossible thing to imagine. What I did is, I chosen some random mammal and put sex with it.

Let's see what comes up in ant sex.

http://www.google.com/trends?q=ant+sex&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0

Lithuania on top and Pakistan on second. I don't get what's this exactly.

Liking this train of thought, I put a few more obscure words followed by "sex" into Google Insights for Search, the more advanced version of Trends used by Fox. Each time I am careful to search for complete phrases.

"Sheep sex" - United States
"Fucking sheep" - United States
"Turtle sex" - United States
"Spider sex" - Italy
"Lion sex" - India (a daring people, apparently)
"Whale sex" - United States
"Robot sex" - United States

Beginning to spot a trend here? I decided to recheck some of the searches done by Fox.

"Donkey sex", they said, was searched most in Pakistan since 2007. Yet my results show something quite different: India in first place with Pakistan showing too few results to include. If, however, I change "donkey sex" as a phrase to donkey sex as two individual words, Pakistan pops back to the top.

Now this is important since it suggests the Fox journalist was searching not for complete phrases, but rather for individual words, which loosens the accuracy of the Trends results even further. A Google search for influenza prevalence among donkey population by age and sex, would show up in a Trends result for donkey sex.

Looking at some more of the Fox terms, but as phrases instead of individual words, we get:

"Rape pictures" (2004-2009) - Pakistan
"Rape sex" (2004-present) - Pakistan
"Dog sex" (2005-present) - Pakistan
"Rape video" - Bangladesh
"Child sex video" - India
Sex - Vietnam

Let's throw in a few more:

"Gay porn" - Trinidad and Tobago
"Lesbian sex" - Pakistan
"Blow job" - United States
Masturbates - Australia
Orgasm - Kenya
"Incest video" - Slovakia
"Gay incest" - Australia
"Pussy sex" - Czech Republic
"Anal sex" - Tanzania
"Gay anal sex" - Australia
Porn - Trinidad and Tobago (Ireland comes a proud fifth!)

What we are seeing is that countries like Pakistan and India and do tend to have higher results for some pornographic terms but the strength of that correlation is pretty weak. Pornistan? Only if you cherry pick the results.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting. But pretty damn disturbing.

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  2. Bizarre isn't it? It's hard to take clear interpretations from all this data, but one way or another a lot of people are Googling really weird stuff. Turtle sex? But... why!

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  3. Relax Sir Shane!! It's just Hindu's being concerned about the afterlife. :D

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  4. I couldn't believe it to my eyes... and this country shows off to be the sincere follower of Islam! Ya maybe it is... Didn't Mohammed himself have sex with a child? Following the prophets footsteps...

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