Chart: Americans are more interested in North Korea than Beyonce or Obama right now

April 11, 2013

U.S. Web users are searching for information about North Korea with astounding, unprecedented frequency, The Washington Post's Chico Harlan reports today. Google searches for "North Korea" are seven times the previous peak, during the country's 2006 nuclear test, Harlan writes. Last week, North Korea was the third most-popular term on Twitter, following Easter and Good Friday.

U.S. Google searches for information about North Korea are outpacing even those for President Obama or for pop superstar Beyonce. Data from Google Trends, which compares the frequency with which users search for terms, show interest in North Korea skyrocketing over the past two weeks. Searches peaked April 4, two days after North Korea announced it would restart its plutonium nuclear plant and almost a week after it released a photo showing a "U.S. Mainland Strike Plan."

The chart at the top of this page shows U.S. Google searches over the past 30 days for North Korea, Beyonce and Obama. Kim Jong Un's pariah state doesn't often come close to such big, better-known names, so this surge is very unusual.

Here's a chart showing searches for those same terms since 2004, when Obama first hit the national stage and Beyonce's solo career started taking off. That blue line for North Korea, you can see, has been reliably at the bottom.

As this chart shows, the very recent, overwhelming surge in American interest is unprecedented. Americans seem to be paying attention to the country in a way that they never have before. Pew estimates that 36 percent of Americans are following the news "very closely" -- unusually high for an international news story.

The question is whether this is just a product of the sillier side of North Korea coverage -- the bizarre propaganda and unintentionally goofy images out of the country -- or if it reflects a larger evolution in how Americans think about the rogue nuclear state. If it's the former, expect interest to die down when the Korean peninsula calms. If the latter, it will be interesting to see if those changing public attitudes bring any pressure for a change in U.S. policy.

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