Science/Tech

Also, These Are People Who Search With Yahoo

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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.