Also, These Are People Who Search With Yahoo


On Sunday, the fifth most popular question searched at Yahoo involving Osama bin Laden was "Who is Osama bin Laden"; 66% of those searches reportedly came from teens aged 13 to 17. Yahoo released this information under the headline "Teens Don't Know Who Osama Bin Laden Is, According to Yahoo! Search Trends," and the story struck a chord with writers eager to fret about ignorant kids. But as Angus Johnston writes, that isn't actually what the data reveal:

I'll take the one with the turban.

According to the blogpost, "who is osama bin laden" was the fifth-most searched question relating to Bin Laden on Sunday, which made it more popular than questions about his height, but more popular than questions about his age. How many people searched that question? Yahoo doesn't say. Could have been millions, could have been a handful. What it does say is that two thirds of those searching were between the ages of 13 and 17.

As for what this factoid means, I have a few thoughts. First of all, as I've suggested above, it doesn't mean that large numbers of teens were asking this question. Again, we just don't have any data on that. Also, even the fact that a high proportion of askers were young teens is ambiguous—I'd be inclined to guess that young people are more likely than older people to phrase search queries as questions. If that's true, then the stat makes teens look comparatively less informed, because it excludes all the fortysomethings who didn't recognize the name and just searched "osama bin laden" to find out.

I'd also question the assumption that anyone searching on "who is osama bin laden" has no idea who Bin Laden was. A Google search on the question shows that at various times in the last ten years it's been asked by, among others, BBC News, the PBS Frontline documentary series, and the Canadian Broadcasting Commission.

"Who is Osama Bin Laden," in other words, can be, and often is, used as a synonym for "Tell me some stuff about Osama Bin Laden." And "tell me some stuff about Osama Bin Laden" is a perfectly reasonable request for a thirteen-year-old to have made last Sunday night.

I'm sure there are people out there who don't know who bin Laden was, as the Tweets collected at the top of this Gawker post suggest. But there's no evidence as of yet that they're common, let alone that they're a "majority" of teens.

NEXT: What They Saw at the Code Pink Rally in DC on Monday

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  1. Good, I was worried there weren’t enough Rashard Mendenhalls in the world, right now, for the righteous anger and culture decay fetishists to cling to. This will help tide them over in these leans times when so many people agree on something.

  2. Yahoo? Whats a Yahoo? Never heard of it.

    1. It’s the search engine that people who haven’t heard of Bing use.

  3. I think it’s more educational to look at the top four searches above Osama.

    Today’s results:

    Charlie Sheen is goin’ warlock on Osama’s ass.

  4. “Who is Osama bin Laden”

    Mohammed Shrugged

    1. +1.

      Soon to be a three part movie!

      1. The cinematography sucks!

  5. Hi! Thanks for the piece. I do have one small correction, though.

    “Who is Osama Bin Laden?” wasn’t, by Yahoo’s report, the fifth most common OBL-related search on Sunday, but the fifth most common search question. In other words, of all searches that [1] included the phrase “Osama Bin Laden” and [2] were phrased in the form of a question, that was the fifth most popular.

    And again, we don’t know what proportion of the searches were phrased as questions.

    1. Thanks – I just fixed it.

  6. Where’s Frau Blucher?

    1. [horse noise]

  7. What it does say is that two thirds of those searching were between the ages of 13 and 17.

    I call bullshit on this one. How could they possibly know the age of the users? Other than a record of bitchy tweets about other girls and skateboarder-balls-hitting-pole Youtube videos from that IP address.

    1. I’m dubious about that too, which is why I put in the “reportedly.” Presumably they’re going by the birthdays people entered when they signed up for Yahoo. But I don’t know what they did about people who searched without signing up (were they excluded altogether?), and of course there’s a good chance that a lot of those birthdays are cheeky lies.

  8. I always said the internets was going to make everyone stupider one day.

  9. “Who is Osama bin Laden” is a perfect sylabbic substitute for the lyric “if you like pina coladas…” It also makes for a more interesting song.

  10. I’m not surprised. The kids would have been between the ages of 3 to 7 when 9/11 happened. It’s not like they have any understanding of the people involved at that age. The equivalent is expecting me to remember prominent figures from around the fall of the Berlin Wall when I was in High School.

  11. Cultural literacy, biotches!

  12. About that photoshop: too soon!

  13. It’s a good bet that anyone conducting searches in the form of questions is an ignoramus in the first place.

    If I want to know who Osama bin Laden is, I type “Osama bin Laden.” I don’t “ask” Google or Yahoo as if they’re magic answer machines awaiting my inquiry.

    1. Interesting point Angus Johnston makes about that:

      Turns out that adding the “who is” skews the results toward third-party, informational sources, and away from DNC/White House promotional materials. So the joke is on Yahoo, and everyone who promoted this meme ? if you want to learn more about someone, starting your search with “who is?” appears to be the internet-savvy way to go about it.

  14. which made it more popular than questions about his height, but more popular than questions about his age.

    There is a word (or words) missing here. Is it “also,” so that not only do more people want to know about his height, but also his age? Is it “not,” as in more people want to know about his height but not his age? Oh, I know. It’s [sic].

  15. starting your search with “who is?” appears to be the internet-savvy way to go about it.

    What about starting your search with “naked”?

  16. Blog post headline of the year.

  17. On the U.S. internet everybody is at least 13. COPPA requires it.

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