PV Sindhu caste: Indian Media manipulated Google trends data
The controversy over Indian's searching for PV Sindhu caste identity shows media manipulated Google trends data.
Indian shuttler P V Sindhu has a had a dream run at the Rio Olympics 2016. She stormed her way to the finals where she lost after putting up a gallant show against Spanish and World number one Carolina Marin and picking up a Silver medal, becoming the first Indian woman Badminton to figure in an Olympics final, bettering the previous feat of Bronze by compatriot Saina Nehwal at London 2012 .
While PV Sindhu brought laurels to India at the Rio Olympics by winning a a silver medal, back home the Indian media was embroiled in a fresh controversy over her caste identity to boost the TRPs and circulation.
An Indian website, The NewsMinute (TNM) was one of the first to stir a storm by publishing an article on Saturday titled “While PV Sindhu fought hard for a medal, many Indians googled her caste.”
This article claimed that over a million people googled for PV Sindhu's caste and the number of searched showed a steady jump (spike of interest) in August, especially on August 20, when compared to June and July.
Predictable, this story has been picked up initially by both Times of India and Indian Express, and soon became one of the most discussed topic in the social media.
However, most the media preferred not to investigate the authenticity of the claims made by the website who published a rejoinder about the Google data shown in its article-"The article earlier carried erroneous numbers on the searches, and this has now been rectified. "
Sankrant Sanu, Seattle based entrepreneur and author of “The English Medium Myth" has ridiculed the findings of the website in his opinion piece.
When naradanews.com asked whether their news was misleading or misrepresentation of facts, the editor in chief of the NewsMinute, Dhanya Rajendran, shrugged off responsibility by saying: "I can't talk about the data as I don't know about the data.
Dhanya vehemently defended the article by repeatedly stating that all Indians are are caste-minded and generalized but when asked whether she would define herself as a casteist, she did not have a response. When data comparing search results was presented to her and the fact that Google algorithm takes into account search history as well of the users, she finally admitted that there had been a mistake on the part of the NewsMinute team.
She had this to say about the report published on their website.
"We misread the data which was available for July and failed to analyse it properly. We did not take into account that Google adwords tool gave results for a larger search. And so, our conclusions on the story were incorrect too. The numbers were wrong and so we have issued an apology on the same. However, as other media outlets have reported, there was a spike in the search term on the day of the match, for whatever reasons. There have also been reports on how there is a tussle for appropriating Sindhu's success. And like many previous instances have shown, caste and caste rigidities are indeed prevelant..."
Sankrant, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and University of Texas, has rubbished the ignorance and prejudices of the staff of the The NewsMinute in his article. http://indiafacts.org/lie-graphs-newsminute/
Here is Sankrant's Twitter reaction to the website:
— Sankrant Sanu सानु (@sankrant) August 21, 2016
He says either they were completely oblivious or incompetent to conduct statistical analysis or were totally biased to conclude that "Indians are caste-minded people"...and that "to prove it, they want to know which caste she belongs to."
The website also came with their own alternate version on the issue that perhaps, "ongoing fight between people in Andhra and Telangana to claim her as their own," also motivated people for Googling out her caste.
TheNewsMinute article: While PV Sindhu fought hard for a medal, many Indians googled her caste
They have given a report published in the Andhra Edition of The Hindu to support their claims. Apart from these, many other news publications got it wrong and went ahead to carry the story without fact checking.
Sankrant says, the website claimed that it found 1.5 lakh searches for Sindhu's caste in June, showing a Google Adwords Keywords planner tool.
Actually, the same graph clearly mentions that only 210 searched for Shindhu's caste in June and the 1.5 lakh searches were for "the entire idea space, including searches on just “PV Sindhu.”
Contrary to the claims of the website that in August caste searches for Sindu spikes 10x, reality is that all other searches for the athelete, that for her caste also spiked in August. Sanu says, still it can reach only 2100 searches in August not millions as claimed by the website.
Sanu adds that only .14 % searched for Sindhu's caste in June and even a spiking couldn't make it a big figure as claimed by the website.
Sanu underlines the fact that "2100 searches becomes millions because “it unmasks the irony of the 21st century.”
His study also proves the lack of vigil on part of the Indian media to check facts, and the extent of prejudices that rule the media room even now.
The two states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are now battling over ownership of Sindhu, calling her "mana ammayi" (our girl). According to reports the maximum search for "PV Sindhu caste" were done in two states mainly Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Data provided by Ram Kumar