COVID-19-Related Web Search Behaviors and Infodemic Attitudes in Italy: Infodemiological Study.JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2020 05 05; 6(2):e19374.JP
Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, fake news and misleading information have circulated worldwide, which can profoundly affect public health communication.
We investigated online search behavior related to the COVID-19 outbreak and the attitudes of "infodemic monikers" (ie, erroneous information that gives rise to interpretative mistakes, fake news, episodes of racism, etc) circulating in Italy.
By using Google Trends to explore the internet search activity related to COVID-19 from January to March 2020, article titles from the most read newspapers and government websites were mined to investigate the attitudes of infodemic monikers circulating across various regions and cities in Italy. Search volume values and average peak comparison (APC) values were used to analyze the results.
Keywords such as "novel coronavirus," "China coronavirus," "COVID-19," "2019-nCOV," and "SARS-COV-2" were the top infodemic and scientific COVID-19 terms trending in Italy. The top five searches related to health were "face masks," "amuchina" (disinfectant), "symptoms of the novel coronavirus," "health bulletin," and "vaccines for coronavirus." The regions of Umbria and Basilicata recorded a high number of infodemic monikers (APC weighted total >140). Misinformation was widely circulated in the Campania region, and racism-related information was widespread in Umbria and Basilicata. These monikers were frequently searched (APC weighted total >100) in more than 10 major cities in Italy, including Rome.
We identified a growing regional and population-level interest in COVID-19 in Italy. The majority of searches were related to amuchina, face masks, health bulletins, and COVID-19 symptoms. Since a large number of infodemic monikers were observed across Italy, we recommend that health agencies use Google Trends to predict human behavior as well as to manage misinformation circulation in Italy.