Prestige, Proximity, and Prejudice: How Google Search Terms Diffuse across the World
A large literature examines the global diffusion of institutions and policies, yet there is much less systematic research on how cultural tastes, consumption preferences, and other individual interests spread across the globe. With a data set that tracks the most popular Google search terms in 199 countries between 2004 and 2014, and drawing on Gabriel de Tarde, this article introduces a theoretical framework to examine how country-level differences shape global imitation of cultural interests and consumer tastes. Contrary to popular accounts, this study finds that cross-national diffusion is surprisingly rare—and seldom U.S. led—but occurs through a multichannel network with many different centers. Negative binomial regression models applied to cases of diffusion in 346,620 country-year dyads reveal that global imitation flows are likely patterned by the power and prestige of countries, their proximities to each other, and the cultural boundaries between them. Accounting for factors such as the influence of large organizations does not disrupt these findings.