Google trends tracks the frequency with which Google users enter certain search terms over time. It's an imperfect but revealing indication of how particular stories are perceived. And, based on the program's data, it looks like the world (or the cross-section that uses Google, anyway) is coming to see the 21-month conflict in Syria as more civil war than revolution or uprising.
For most of the conflict, Google users were far more likely to search for information on the "Syrian revolution" than "Syrian conflict" or "Syrian civil war." Maybe that was a legacy from the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, where mostly peaceful protests largely drove events. For months, this was true in Syria, as well. As of April 2011, when mass protests began in Syria, "revolution" accounted for 99 percent of the searches among the three terms. That share remained high for most of 2011, but began declining as more Syrians started taking up arms toward the end of last year.
"Syrian revolution" remained the dominant term even as Bashar al-Assad's regime deployed bigger and heavier weapons on its escalating crackdowns, killing thousands of people with tanks, artillery and aircraft.
Then, on July 18, Syrian rebels blew up a government office in Damascus, killing three top Assad aides. The Washington Post's Liz Sly and Babak Dehghanpisheh called it a "pivotal moment" in the conflict, and that appears to have also been true in the world's perception of it. "Civil war" and "conflict" shot up in Google searches, as you can see in the spike in the chart. But "revolution" remained the dominant term.
It's not clear what exactly happened in September that pushed "civil war" to overtake "revolution" as the most-searched term, particularly since fighting between rebels and the regime had dominated news coverage for months at that point. It appears to have been a quick succession of events that may have shifted the public view of the fighting. On Sept. 22, the rebel umbrella group Free Syrian Army moved their headquarters from Turkey into a rebel-controlled area of Syria. Three days later, a Syrian mortar landed in Israel-controlled Golan Heights, raising (unfulfilled) fears that Israel might enter the conflict. Fighting had also spread into neighboring Lebanon. While none of these events on their own shifted the conflict from a revolution to a civil war, they may have helped bend public opinion in that direction.
Google users are now almost three times as likely to search for "Syrian civil war" as they are for "Syrian revolution." A week ago, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights warned that the country risked "a full-fledged civil war." She's probably a better judge than Google's billion-plus users, but, according to the wisdom of this particular crowd, Syria has already crossed the line into civil war.