Google Trends prove TPPA protest impact

Can action in the streets impact public interest in a civic topic? Below I’ll show how that happened in New Zealand, and how Google Trends was able to measure the impact.

New Zealanders were faced with losing sovereignty to foreign corporations as trade officials from twelve nations convened to sign the TPPA in their home turf. Kiwis had already run every defense possible, from petitions to marches to nationwide referendums. They faced Orwellian visits from police that may well have been designed to dissuade them from protesting against the TPPA signing event on February 4th.

They responded in the most logical way possible. Thousands of them, in those pleasant kiwi accents, effectively said:

“Yea, nah. Shut ‘er down.”

New Zealanders swarmed major intersections in Auckland CBD, with bamboo tripods signaling their intent to stay. Photo by Baz Mantis Photography.

Citizen group Real Choice kicked off the day at 9am, making good on their call to arms:

On February 4th , delegates from the 12 TPP nations will descend on SKYCITY convention centre to sign the TPPA and we are going to get in their way in an attempt to stop them. Real Choice is calling for a blockade of the Sky City convention complex on the 4th of February, leaving Aotea Square at 9am and holding Federal St. for as long as possible. This means shutting down the surrounding area and stopping entry by blocking some surrounding roads — effectively creating a TPPA free zone. — Real Choice

Nearly every intersection surrounding the SkyCity complex was blockaded, shutdown, and absorbed into the “TPPA free zone”. At one point, bulletproof black vans were said to have emerged from the complex’s underground parking (carrying international delegates perhaps), only to find themselves with no way out and forced to retreat back to their police-protected enclave.

Thousands of these committed kiwis were reinforced by many thousands more for a midday march that brought together unions, Māori iwi (tribes) from across the country, and everyday Aucklanders.

TPPA Blockade video by Emily at Accompany Collective.

It was a peaceful event with no arrests and no injuries (despite some very rough handling from a few police officers). It was said to be one of the best in years:

[The protesters] put their bodies on the asphalt of Auckland’s inner-city carriageways, and for several hours they made things stop. In doing so they sent a much-needed reminder to the people who run, to the people who own, this country that it can, if the provocation is great enough, be prevented from working. No one has indicated that to them for a very long time… The Springbok Tour protesters of 1981 could not have done it better. — The Daily Blog
Māori protesters voice discontent with TPPA. Photo by Pati Solomona Tyrell.

Now that you know the story though, let’s talk about the impact.

One of the great things about modern technology is it’s ability to help us take a pulse on society, nearly instantaneously.

As Google Trends shows, starting during the protest and extending into the long weekend following, “tppa” was one of the most searched for terms in all of New Zealand. In fact, more people wanted Google to tell them what the heck the TPPA was than how to get from point A to point B (with “maps” being one of the top search key words, this is a pretty big win).

TPPA (blue line) busts past maps and weather (New Zealand’s MetService).

To see how the protest piqued the public’s curiosity, Google Trends can show us two things.

First, top related queries were “what is tppa”, “tppa facts”, etc. This implies that the people doing most of the searching don’t know much about the TPPA (and that the government, which ostensibly represents the will of the people, has done a fairly poor job of informing them about such a huge issue).

TPPA related searches

Second, and perhaps more interesting is how the spike for “tppa” searches is much higher than that which is for “tpp” searches. The reason that’s interesting is the NZ government and media often refer to the Trans-Pacific Partnership as “TPP”, while protest groups almost universally call it the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (“TPPA”). So if you want to know who is winning the media war, this chart shows it all. The score is 5 to 1, and the people on the streets waving the anti-TPPA signs are winning.

Searches for TPPA outnumber TPP five to one.

Finally, for the thousands of Aucklanders seeing the SkyCity blockade or the massive march walking by, what would they learn when they search for “tppa”?

They’d find the top result is from a citizens’ group opposing the TPPA.

What is the TPPA?” from It’s Our Future — top Google search result for “tppa” search.

According to research, the top search result can expect about 33% of all traffic (it trails off fast for results below that), and those users clicking result #1 would learn of a number of problems with the international deal:

Huge Impact on Kiwis… If it goes ahead, we risk damage to our innovative economy, our pristine environment, our health, and the ability to shape our own future. — It’s Our Future

The world can’t change when people don’t know what’s wrong with it. Marches and blockades are sometimes criticized as stale or inconvenient, but this shows they can certainly drive the message home. What those searchers from the sidelines do next is up to each of them. They might even raise their fists in solidarity.

Opposition to the TPPA extends above and beyond the street. Photo by Dominic Hartnett.

For more photos of the event, check out these great albums: