Mystery Behind Sudden Spike in ‘BTC’ Searches Tied to Hurricane Dorian

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Internet searches for what appears to be the Bitcoin price ticker “BTC” have spiked to unprecedented highs, fresh Google Trends data reveals.  

Between Aug. 29 and Aug. 31, BTC searches worldwide catapulted from a value of 2, through to 64 (on Aug. 30) and up to the maximal level of search interest, denoted by a value of 100. 

As of Sept. 3, the value has dropped back to 74 — yet the sudden surge in BTC searches seems even more unusual given that searches for “Bitcoin” have stayed virtually level at a search interest level of 8.

Internet searches worldwide for “BTC” and “bitcoin,” YTD

Internet searches worldwide for “BTC” and “bitcoin,” YTD. Source: Google Trends

Perspectives

The data appears all the more anomalous when compared with historical internet search data for “BTC” and “Bitcoin” over the past five years. As would be expected, both search terms hit previous all-time-highs during Bitcoin’s winter 2017 bull run. 

Moreover, “Bitcoin” significantly outstripped the search popularity of the “BTC” ticker at the time — by a factor of 5.

Internet searches worldwide for “BTC” and “bitcoin,” Sept. 2014-present

Internet searches worldwide for “BTC” and “bitcoin,” Sept. 2014-present. Source: Google Trends

A storm of interest

The recent surge in BTC interest has not gone unnoticed. American business magazine Forbes ran an article on Sept. 5, alleging that:

“It appears Google searches for bitcoin and BTC, the name used by traders for the bitcoin digital token, could be being manipulated–-possibly in order to move the bitcoin price.”

The article continues to cite research from crypto media outlet Kryptografen, which claimed the data indicated that Romania had seen the largest spike in BTC searches globally and implied that manipulative intent could possibly explain the unexpected trend:

«It is reasonable to assume that someone is behind these radical changes.» 

Yet there is perhaps a more simple — natural — explanation behind the sudden popularity of the ticker symbol. The tropical cyclone Dorian currently wreaking havoc across the Bahamas became a hurricane on Aug. 28, rapidly intensifying to a category 4 hurricane by Aug. 31 and to category 5 severity by Sept. 1. 

“BTC” is not only the ticker symbol for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but also the name of a major telecommunications provider in the Bahamas, the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).

As the storm continues to devastate the islands, local media has reported extensively on the loss of telecoms networks — notably BTC — and the difficulties hurricane victims are facing without mobile services. 

The kneejerk media coverage of the search term data thus appears to be symptomatic of a readiness to reproduce the narrative of apparently rife manipulation in the cryptocurrency markets — a concern frequently cited by regulators as grounds for delaying their approval for new investment instruments in the sector.