After President Trump vowed “fire and fury” in response to threats from North Korea, people in the United States flocked to the internet to research what this might mean. And the phrases they Googled and news stories they shared showed they were highly concerned about the imminence of a nuclear attack or World War III.
As soon as the story broke, there was a huge uptick in Facebook shares and retweets in stories that included terms such as “nuclear armageddon, “fire and fury” and “World War III, according to data pulled by SocialFlow, a publishing optimization company that is used by 300 major brands, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
SocialFlow said news stories and analysis related to Trump’s threats on Tuesday had a combined 58,990 shares on Facebook, compared to 48,229 likes. On Twitter, stories received 13,528 retweets, compared to 11,607 likes.
Shares and retweets outpaced likes, which is rare for a hard news story, SocialFlow’s co-founder Frank Speiser said.
“The public seems to be much more concerned that nuclear confrontation is a possibility,” Speiser said.
Typically, this kind of engagement only happens when there is a product recall or when a celebrity has died. People are reluctant to like “bad news,” but they want to make sure it is shared, Speiser said.
Additionally, the stories on Facebook garnered a whopping 32,381 comments, demonstrating that people were actively engaged rather than just viewing a viral article.
People were also turning to Google’s search engine to get answers.
Here’s when certain search terms peaked over the past 24 hours in the United States, according to Google Trends:
Users’ interest started to rise in “nuclear war” around 4 p.m. Tuesday, after new reports with the president’s strong language started publishing. It peaked at 10:48 p.m. that night.
Searches for “nuclear attack” didn’t peak until three hours later, at 1:52 a.m. Wednesday.
Interest in “North Korea,” the country whose nuclear ambitions inspired Trump’s words, peaked at 11:44 p.m.
Searches for “World War III” and “World War 3,” which could theoretically happen if the United States makes good on Trump’s vow, peaked at 4 a.m. Tuesday.
Interest in Secretary of State “Rex Tillerson” peaked at 8 am. Wednesday, after he insisted that there is no “imminent threat” of a nuclear attack from North Korea during a surprise stop in Guam.
The word “Guam” also started to rise at at 6:16 p.m. Tuesday, after South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said North Korea was considering attacking the U.S. territory. It eventually peaked at 7:04 a.m. Wednesday, during Tillerson’s surprise visit.
As for the president himself, searches for “Trump nuclear” peaked at 8 a.m. Wednesday, right after the president tweeted that he had ordered a renovation and modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
SocialFlow’s Speiser notes that the active interest in this topic does not actually mean that social media users believed a nuclear war was imminent.
“I just haven’t seen this kind of alarm,” he said.
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