Acid Attacks & Online Crime Research

There’s a story in the news at the moment about a woman (Naomi Oni) who was attacked with acid on the way home from work, almost lost her sight as a result, and had her skin badly burned.

The Follow-up Story: “Was it self-inflicted????”

A series of follow-up stories ask “Did she actually do this to herself???“. Here are a couple of headlines from The Independent & The Daily Mail:

Headline from the Independent
Headline from the Daily Mail

The Two Facts Behind These Headlines

Each of these headlines is based on 2 facts (the second is key):

  1. The police have taken her laptop as part of the investigation
  2. Naomi Oni had previously searched Google for terms related to ‘acid attacks’, having seen a documentary on a woman called Katie Piper, who was herself attacked with acid.

The detail of exactly which terms she searched for is not included in any of the articles; only that she had searched & visited resulting pages related to acid attacks, and related to Katie Piper.

A Missing Fact: People Search For This Stuff Whenever it Hits Headlines

I don’t know the details of Naomi Oni’s case (the key detail would most likely be the actual terms she searched for), but it’s worth pointing out that whenever an unusual crime is featured on TV/in newspapers, people search for the crime itself in droves online.

Here are a couple of trend graphs to bear that out. Each of these graphs shows the period within which Naomi Oni’s story hit the headlines, and when she herself was featured on TV. As you can see from both graphs, there is a massive spike of interest in searches online when the story hit the headlines, with a minor bump in January, and a much bigger bump when it was featured more widely nationally.

Google Trends Data for ‘Acid Attack’:



Note the bumps in Jan/Feb. The first as the story is picked up, the second as it is featured in greater detail after she gives an interview.

Wikipedia Page View data for the ‘Acid Throwing’ page:


Again here, a small bump on the wikipedia ‘acid throwing’ page as the story is first covered, and an enormous spike that coincides exactly with the broadcast of an interview with her, covered by the BBC News.


  • This woman may or may not have inflicted this on herself, but the detail in the articles (the fact that she had searched for acid attacks online having seen a documentary) is just not enough to draw any sort of conclusion at all – it is a very common behaviour.
  • The fact that she searched for ‘acid attack’ having seen a documentary on Katie Piper is not unusual in the slightest.
  • The knock-on effect of this woman’s story is that tens of thousands of other people have now searched for ‘Acid Attacks’ & ‘Acid Throwing’ onliine.
  • Every newspaper mention of ‘acid attacks’, or any unusual crime, essentially acts as an ad for the phenomenon, leading people to further research it online.

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