When Searches for Facebook Spike, So Does Unemployment

Some companies and industries do especially well in tough times: Discounters, health-care providers, fast-food chains, Facebook. That’s right, Facebook. The unemployment rate is more correlated with Google searches for “facebook” than with any other search term.

Google’s Correlate “finds search patterns which correspond with real-world trends.” The most obvious way to use it is to enter a query into the search box, and it will give you search terms that have a similar pattern of activity. For example, search for “football” and you find that NFL, fantasy, and tailgating are in the top 10. Not very surprising.

The tool also works the other way: You can upload your own data set, and see what search terms line up. (This is how Google built its Flu Tracker.) We uploaded actual unemployment rate data to see what search patterns correlate most closely, and Facebook searches dominate. Higher unemployment translates to more Facebook searches, and lower unemployment means fewer Facebook searches. They are so closely tied to unemployment, they outnumber searches involving actual unemployment-related topics.

Notice most of the Facebook-related searches include a first name, and “Facebook + first name” represents the single biggest block of search patterns most correlated to unemployment. Here you see several specific names, with their search interest tracking closely to unemployment in past years.

It’s hard to say exactly what’s going on here. It seems reasonable that more unemployed people suggests more time spent surfing the Web, whether to kill time or to connect with anyone and everyone who might help them find a job, but it’s still surprising that Facebook is far and away the most correlated search—far more than “unemployment,” “résumé,” or “work.”

The currently employed folks at Facebook did not respond to requests for comment. They are probably busy working.

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