Our Incredibly Distorting Bubble

— Myriam Klink… A Storm in an English-speaking teapot —

This morning I was browsing Lebanese blogs and I saw a link to Executive Magazine’s article on what the Lebanese googled in 2012. It was an interesting read filled with the kind of stuff I usually like: Interactive graphs, charts and photos of blond models..

But when I saw the chart on Lebanese divas, I knew that something was completely off:

Could it be? a talentless woman spiking ahead of our superstars in Lebanon twice in 2012? Something is wrong and I decided to investigate. So I redid the same google trends study but with one small but crucial change: I used the artists’ name in Arabic instead of latin. As I suspected, a completely different picture emerges:

The Arabic searches have a much higher activity volume and are therefore more representative of the population, and you see that depressed purple line in the bottom? That’s all the searches whats-her-face got in Arabic. A woman who caused a stir in the blogosphere and on my facebook newsfeed barely registers in the Arabic-speaking Lebanon.


As a Lebanese who blogs in English, I often wondered how much my voice and that of people like me (people who post stuff in English and French on facebook and read blogs like this) are influential in Lebanon. Time and time again, I’ve noticed that we live in a bubble that is not truly representative of the man on the street. I attacked Arabic language purists and made the point that even if you don’t speak Arabic you can be as Lebanese as anybody else, but that doesn’t mean that we should be under the illusion that Lebanon looks like us. Consider how Executive Magazine describes the english-only Myriam Klink chart: (emphasis mine)

There can only be one winner for this: Myriam Klink. The “3ANTER” singer’s hit about her pet pussy cat provoked one of the biggest temporary spikes of the year in Lebanese Google searches.

The first chart, without Klink, shows Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram and Elissa as the top three Googled female artists overall, with the legendary Fairuz trailing a long way behind.

The man who wrote this seems to really believe that this google search is representative of Lebanon, despite the huge red flag that shows Fairuz as failing in a country that all but worships her. His attitude mirrors that of many of us who are deluded and who really believe that the majority of the Lebanese are like us.

The lesson from Egypt

Last year, ahead of the parliamentary elections in Egypt, I was following about 500 Egyptian people on twitter, most of which are “Arab Spring” type activists. The picture their tweets painted was that the elections will produce a parliament that will guide Egypt to the path of freedom and Liberty. There too reality got in the way: 75% of Egyptian voters chose Islamists to represent them in parliament. Needless to say, that was completely different from the image I had in my head from reading the twitter feed.

We (and by we I mean people like me and the people I follow on twitter and facebook) ought to really reflect on this and what it means. To make this even more obvious I will end with yet another google trends chart, this time comparing the searches for Myriam Klink (english) and مريام كلينك in Arabic:

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  • http://oussama-hayek.blogspot.com/ OH

    I had never heard of Myriam Klink. You just got me to google her;)

    • Mustapha

      Thanks for proving my point!

  • http://gravatar.com/gkaram gkaram

    The obvious thing to do is to combine both the Arabic and the English spelling. One must expect contradictions especially when Divas like Fairouz have a tremendous following and so the Arabic would probably be overwhelming. Even the Myriam Klink English language based chart is not significantly different from the Arabic based one except for the spikes due to a song that would be meaningless for Arabic speakers.That is whoever became interested temporarily in learning who she was used the English. The error is that of interpretation by Executive magazine.
    And yes Lebanon is an Arabic speaking country and so it is expected that Arabic searches would be much more numerous.
    This brings to mind another issue and that is the degree of accessibility of the internet. I imagine , although I have not seen solid figures, that internet use in Lebanon is rather limited as a result of the scarcity of broadband, the expense associated with it and the relative scarcity of internet devices. This is another way of saying , if I am right about access, that these searcg images are not representative of society because they are biased towards the more affluent and the more educated.

    • Mustapha

      Good point about the accessibility to the internet argument.. This reinforces even more the point that the english-speaking web is in a bubble separate from the “real” Lebanese..

  • Observer

    Well what this proves is that you and the people you follow and vice versa seem to have a Klink fixation with pussycats and/or blondes. Birds of feather flock together.

  • Charles

    An interesting way to measure multi-lingual phenomena online might be to find something static to compare the variables. For example, I believe that McDonald’s publishes national sales figures in their investor prospectuses (at least I know they do for France). Then, compare sales figures to language searches. It won’t tell you all that much, but might indicate something – Francophones use McDo more often, Anglophones say nasty things about McDonalds, Arabic searches tend to come from IPs associated with hotels that cater to khaleeji.

  • Fadi

    This is an interesting topic. It gets very interesting when talking about the bubble. But with all due respect, the logic in comparing the latin-based and arabic-based searches is not complete.

    When you say “The Arabic searches have a much higher activity volume…” you’re only positing such a statement. The google trends charts show comparative volume, not absolute volume, meaning your two charts show that searches for Fairouz are higher than for Klink (in Arabic), and it’s the opposite for latin characters-based searches, but we don’t know if those in Arabic are higher than those in Latin.

    If you aggregate all searches on one chart, what’s-her-face, unfortunately, was still searched 5 times more than Fairouz in June, and twice more in December. Fortunately, on average for 2012, Fairouz was still searched at least 3 times more (but that’s not enough…)

    • Mustapha

      Actually fadi the volume of Arabic is indeed higher.. See those small colored bars near the english chart? they represent average volume of search.. For some odd reason the bars for the arabic chart are not showing here, but if you click on the link and go to the google page, you’ll see that the search volume in Arabic is almost 4 x more than the latin counterpart..

      • Shiwa7ad

        The volume of Arabic is larger but not 4x. You should add the most common transliteration of Fairuz which is Fairouz. Other transliterations, such as the very francophone Feyrouz (my preferred spelling, btw) are much rarer.

  • http://gravatar.com/khodnafas khodnafas

    Thanks a million Mustapha for taking this further in analysis! This is exactly what interests me and what I preach as a communications specialists. You want to have a grip over the rural lebanese, you have to start with the Arabic language. Speaking English or French or communicating in English doesn’t make you less of a Lebanese, I agree 100%. But It is a very BIAISED opinion to think all Lebanese speak foreign language. I intentionally do not answer any waiter or any person in any shop when they address me in English or French taking it for granted and based on my looks that I speak foreign Language.

    And that started when my mother and Father couldn’t know what to order at a restaurant they liked to try, simply because there menu was all in English language. And it was a Lebanese cuisine restaurant. My parents are my reference for the “real Lebanese”. Both of them are highly educated intellectual people. They simply got their education in Arabic. They do not speak nor French nor English. My mother cannot tell the speciality of the doctor who is hosted in “The Doctors” on MTV, as they write both name and title in English. And that is one of the most viewed TV shows ever. I call this direspect from the TV and any other company who acts the same.

    Thanks again for highlighting all this.

  • Shiwa7ad

    yeah well I think you are totally wrong Moustapha. Just try to add Myriam Klink in Latin characters along the other names including fairouz in arabic, and you will see that the two peaks of myriam klink (no pun intended) dwarf fairouz searches. http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US#q=فيروز%2C%20هيفا%20وهبي%2C%20نانسي%20عجرم%2C%20اليسا%2C%20myriam%20klink&geo=LB&date=1%2F2012%2012m&cmpt=q

    • Shiwa7ad

      ah sorry I see Fadi already noted what I said and you replied to him

  • Observer

    The incredibly disturbing “educated” Sunni bubble.

    Ever asked yourself why your father sent you to the french schools he did and the American University of Beirut instead of educating you at the barbaric Bedouin Saudi/Syrian school of life?