Does typing any three-digit number and the words "new cases" into Google prove that COVID-19 is a hoax? No, that's not true: COVID-19 is a real and deadly pandemic. And the massive volume of coronavirus-related content on the internet, along with how the Google search function operates, explains the phenomenon.
The claim appeared in social media posts, including in a post (archived here) shared on Facebook on June 22, 2020, withthe introduction "For all of you 'CORONAVIRUS' worry warts do this...... Just proves again its not what your being told......" The meme read:
I'm going to blow your mind right now. Type in any 3 digit number then "new cases" on google
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Jun 23 19:20:40 2020 UTC)
The implication in the post is that because any three-digit number and "new cases" brings up so many articles, mentions and references -- anything and everything makes a match, and thousands of matches at that -- they can't all be real.
News organizations all around the world have been posting numerous stories about the crisis, on a daily basis, for months now. So there are tens of thousands of articles, and maybe more, that are being accessed in these "type any 3 digit" searches. And the search results often have the 3-digit number, and then the phrase "new cases" somewhere else in the article. That means the 3-digit number refers to something else, such as the rate of increase, a page number, digits in the middle of some other number, or a phone number.
Then there are some search results that have nothing to do with COVID-19. For example, a search of "998 new cases" resulted in content related to congressional hearings, psychiatric cases, and court cases.
But there's another, even simpler explanation.
Danny Sullivan is Google's Public Search Liaison. Here's how he tells it:
If you search for words or figures, we try to show pages that have those words & figures. With 100,000s of pages from 1,000s of agencies with daily stat updates on COVID-19, you can search for most anything & get a match. Also works potato chips & no doubt many more terms. pic.twitter.com/0dzT6VL09H-- Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) June 22, 2020
Sullivan offered another example of why these types of searches come up with so many responses:
Here you can see it happening for a different type of "cases," that is, suitcases. There are trillions of pages on the web with trillions more words and figures. It's not hard to find matching pages for many different terms and figures. pic.twitter.com/my5FkO7kFN-- Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) June 22, 2020
Bottom line: A Google search does not prove COVID-19 is a hoax.