Published September 1, 2021 | Version Published
Journal article Open

Do you see what I see? Images of the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of Google

  • 1. Information School, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
  • 2. Open University of Cyprus, Cyprus
  • 3. CYENS - Centre of Excellence, Nicosia, Cyprus
  • 4. Open University of Cyprus, Cyprus and CYENS - Centre of Excellence, Nicosia, Cyprus


During times of crisis, information access is crucial. Given the opaque processes behind modern
search engines, it is important to understand the extent to which the ‘‘picture’’ of the Covid-
19 pandemic accessed by users differs. We explore variations in what users ‘‘see’’ concerning
the pandemic through Google image search, using a two-step approach. First, we crowdsource
a search task to users in four regions of Europe, asking them to help us create a photo
documentary of Covid-19 by providing image search queries. Analysing the queries, we find
five common themes describing information needs. Next, we study three sources of variation –
users’ information needs, their geo-locations and query languages – and analyse their influences
on the similarity of results. We find that users see the pandemic differently depending on where
they live, as evidenced by the 46% similarity across results. When users expressed a given query
in different languages, there was no overlap for most of the results. Our analysis suggests that
localisation plays a major role in the (dis)similarity of results, and provides evidence of the
diverse ‘‘picture" of the pandemic seen through Google.


This work has been partly supported by the project that has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 739578 (RISE – Call: H2020-WIDESPREAD-01-2016-2017-TeamingPhase2) and the Republic of Cyprus through the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy.



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CyCAT – Cyprus Center for Algorithmic Transparency 810105
European Commission
RISE – Research Center on Interactive Media, Smart System and Emerging Technologies 739578
European Commission