The World Is Watching

As global leaders gather for the UN General Assembly, the Middle East, North Korea, and climate change are dominating the internet.

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This week in New York City, world leaders have gathered for the UN General Assembly. It is a tense time for the planet. An attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facility has stoked fears of a regional war. The US-China trade war is dragging down confidence and growth. The global economic outlook has turned negative. Rainforests are burning, and carbon emissions continue to rise amid the release of ever-more alarming climate science. As the UNGA meets, Predata signals show which global risks and issues are most capturing the world’s attention.

First, the Middle East, where a September 14 drone strike on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facility and a political transition in Israel have focused attention on the entire region to an unusually high degree. The attack, which the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the UK have attributed to Iran, has stoked concerns about a major military escalation in the Middle East. As an indication, online interest has spiked toward Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria -- three countries where Tehran and Riyadh proxies battle for control.

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Even nations that are more peripheral to the Iran-Saudi conflict, such as Jordan, Oman, and Qatar, are drawing unusually heightened levels of online activity.

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Israel is also drawing an exceptional level of online attention. For the second time in six months, voters went to the polls, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government. Now, with the result again deadlocked, Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz are negotiating to form a government. This election has produced a larger online reaction than the first vote, back in April.

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The Middle East is a typically volatile region. But it is highly unusual for online interest in so many of its nations to spike in unison.

Meanwhile, online audiences are also once again focused on North Korea. As the Hermit Kingdom has resumed missile launches, negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang are stalled. Online interest in North Korea has jumped to its highest level since the failed Hanoi Summit In February. That could be a sign of renewed global pressure for negotiations.

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In terms of global issues, climate change appears to be drawing the most dramatic increases in online attention. On Friday, millions of protesters in hundreds of cities worldwide marched and went on strike to demand governments take greater action to curb carbon emissions. The demonstrations appear to have focused internet users on both efforts to address climate change and on specific pieces of science. Online attention to climate activism -- both by governments and by citizens -- surged to a year-high. 

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And online interest in the record of global temperatures since 1850 rose to an almost all-time high. (According to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, the period from 2015-2019 was on track to be the warmest five-year period on record).

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This heightened online interest in subjects related to climate change may point to an added boost for countries participating in environmental talks during the General Assembly this week.