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Meet the fact-checker’s fact checker

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At a conference running in Johannesburg today and tomorrow, one of the speakers will bring a new perspective to fact-checking and fighting the fake news onslaught, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Nechama Brodie doesn’t look like a private investigator or a secret agent. Nor, at the other end of the career excitement scale, does she look anything like an accountant or bookkeeper.

Yet, she employs skills central to all of these professions in her quest to perfect the art of fact-checking.

At the Liberty Vuka Knowledge Summit running today and tomorrow at the Sandton Convention Centre, she will teach attendees practical methods for how to question information, and hopes to inspire them to ask better questions.

“The secret in life is not to know everything,” she says. “But how do we learn just enough to ask the right questions from the right people?”

Nechama Brodie. Image by Sarah de Pina

Nechama Brodie.
Image by Sarah de Pina

It is just this dilemma that inspired her, in 2015, to launch TRI Facts as the research and training division of Africa Check, a respected and independent fact-checking agency. Brodie’s earlier work at Africa Check ranged from investigating crime and security statistics to researching politics and policy. She even explored the urban legends around Johannesburg being the world’s largest urban forest.

Heading up TRI Facts now gives this part-time musician the opportunity to share her methods, as well as her unusual perspective on information.

“The current epidemic of fake news, especially via social media, is a consequence of relying on the wrong people to tell us what is right and what is wrong in the media. But even mainstream media doesn’t always get it right.

“Even the term fake news is very problematic, because the media and politicians are both abusing the term. By calling it fake news, they are shying away from calling political propaganda what it really is: propaganda.”

The ordinary member of the public is fodder for this propaganda mill, especially in a time of social media’s ascendancy as a news source.

“There’s a decline in trust in the media. People trust their friends and family more. But generally, your friends and family are not necessarily that smart, so why do you trust them more? So I’ll be looking at the structures of who we choose to trust and why.”

Brodie makes a fascinating connection between distrust of media and the distrust of science that is currently fashionable in various constituencies in both the United States and South Africa.

 

“We’ve distorted media literacy, so that the concept of questioning media has been distorted into mistrust of media. That, then, also translates into people rejecting science.

“Of course science is not infallible, but fallibility is a process and it’s built into the scientific method. But now people say that, if one thing is wrong, it’s all wrong. As a result, they replace acceptable sources with unacceptable sources.”

This is not a new phenomenon, but social media has given it wings.

“It’s not very different to what we used to get from friends and family and neighbours before social media. But the timeline has collapsed, and we now get that information much faster.

“The Internet is a fantastic source of good information. But, when you start asking the how and why, how do you learn to ask better questions, and who can you ask? A hundred years ago scientists were experts in multiple areas; these

days they are expected to be experts in one specialist area. The original scientists were polymaths and real geniuses, not the geniuses we make ourselves out to be on Twitter. We confuse reading stuff on the Internet with making ourselves experts.”

This malaise has spread to journalists, who will now take legal documents to colleagues for opinions rather than calling lawyers. Brodie knows from her own experience how dangerous this can be.

“In my early 20s, when I was starting off as a writer, I had a strong assumption that I was always right. In retrospect, I was very lucky I didn’t make major errors. As I get older, I double-check everything. But not just by using Google. I make phone calls. I call universities, find professors, and meet people.

“The great thing about experts is that they refer you to knowledge, and don’t only give you their opinions. It becomes a knowledge tree.”

TRI Facts primarily offers research and training to journalists, analysts and government officials, among other. Its training includes understanding what facts can and cannot be checked, how bias can affect the ability to find and interpret data, how to find local data, and how to fact-check multimedia sources.

However, it also teaches a simple methodology that can be use anywhere by anyone if they are dubious about information. Brodie will share this approach during the Liberty Vuka Knowledge Summit.

“There is no magic to fact-checking. We teach that you can never be an expert, but that it’s okay. Your job is to find people who do know, and sources that are credible.”

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2-in-1 devices may save PCs

Overall PC sales are expected to decline over the next four years, while 2-in-1 PCs are expected to grow over the same period.

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Shipments of personal computing devices (PCDs), inclusive of traditional PCs and tablets, are expected to decline at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -2.4% over the 2019-2023 forecast period. However, 2-in-1 devices (convertible PCs and detachable tablets) and ultraslim notebook PCs are expected to grow 5% collectively over the same period. According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDCWorldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker, overall PCD shipments will drop below 400 million in 2020, which would be the first time this has happened since 2010, the year the original iPad launched. The bright spots in this challenged category have been thin and light products and detachable tablets, which includes Apple’s iPad Pro devices and Microsoft’s Surface tablets.

“So far in 2019 we’ve seen some unexpected positive trends within the traditional PC market,” says Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “The commercial demand driven by the approaching end of support for Windows 7 was somewhat expected and still leaves room for growth in the second half of 2019. But we’ve also seen some surprising areas of consumer demand. Concerns about whether tariffs will drive consumer costs up has many vendors trying to put product into the channel early, so the real focus will be monitoring sell out for the remainder of the year and into 2020.”

IDC anticipates a splintering of the 2-in-1 category as Apple and Microsoft continue to push forward the detachable form factor while other PC vendors continue to promote convertible PCs. Looking ahead, IDC expects iOS detachables will capture almost one quarter of the 2-in-1 market throughout the forecast.

Jitesh Ubrani research manager for IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, says: “Apple’s support for a physical keyboard by adding a smart connector to the 2019 iPad and the launch of iPadOS will help to further cement detachables as a viable alternative to modern notebooks and convertibles.”

Outside of the growth from these modern form factors, the introduction of 5G will also play a role in the PCD market, although the ramp is expected to follow smartphones. IDC forecasts that by 2023 10% of detachable tablets will have built in 5G, which is in addition to another 29% running 4G. Meanwhile, the number of ultraslim and convertible notebooks with cellular connectivity is also expected to grow with a double-digit CAGR.

Personal Computing Device Forecast, 2019-2023 (shipments in millions)

Product2019 
Shipments*
2019 
Share*
2023 
Shipments*
2023 
Share*
2019-2023 
CAGR*
2-in-140.910.2%47.513.0%3.8%
Desktop + Desktop Workstation92.423.0%77.521.2%-4.3%
Notebook + Mobile Workstation73.018.1%47.713.0%-10.1%
Slate Tablet116.028.8%93.825.6%-5.2%
Ultraslim80.019.9%99.327.1%5.5%
Grand Total402.2100.0%365.7100.0%-2.4%
Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker, September 11, 2019

Notes:

* All figures represent forecast data.

  • Traditional PCs include Desktop, Notebook, and Workstation.
  • 2-in-1 devices are a category including convertible PCs and detachable tablets. Convertible PCs are notebook computers equipped with an integrated keyboard and display that can be used in either a traditional notebook configuration or a slate configuration. A detachable tablet meets all the criteria of a slate tablet but is designed to operate with a first-party keyboard designed specifically for the device.

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Launching a website? Follow these SEO tips

By KATIE CHODOSH, content consultant at TopLine Comms

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There is an abundance of small businesses in South Africa and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) could be the key to getting them off the ground. SEO isn’t easy, but it’s crucial for company growth. When done right, it can help businesses beat out their competitors (both on a national and global scale) and secure quality leads. As a B2B SEO agency, we spend a lot of time working with clients on their company’s SEO strategy (both in South Africa and the UK) and have seen them reap the benefits. 

Launching a new website provides the perfect excuse to create an SEO strategy. As tempting as it is to get writing straight away, there are many elements to SEO that you need to consider before you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). We’ve managed plenty of site launches from an SEO perspective (including our own website, TopLine Film, earlier this year) which means that we have a blueprint to work from.Here’s what we’ve learned over the years. 

Get ready to launch

There’s a lot of planning that goes into launching a websiteand you need to have a good understanding of SEO before itgoes live. Google’s resources on how search works and its SEO Starter Guide are good places to start.

Next is your keyword research. Keywords are what your audience are actively searching for and the terms that you want to rank for. The research itself will help you get a better understanding of your target market and might even get you thinking differently about your business. Moz has a good beginners guide to keywords and is also a great tool for carrying out keyword searches.

Once you’ve identified your keywords, you’ll want to sort them by bottom, middle and top of funnel. Those at the bottom are the closest to checking out (i.e. they already want your product). Those in the middle are looking for further information and those at the top are just browsing, generally looking for answers to a problem they’re having (their keywords tend to be questions). From there, you can plan your parent and child pages, as these should be based on bottom funnel keywords. 

Then you can plan your site directory. You need to organise your website in a way that Google deems logical. It’s worth checking out Google’s own resources on site hierarchy to make sure you get it right.

After you’ve completed all these steps, you can think about drafting your website content.

Start writing

Now that you’ve done all the preparation and have all your keywords to hand, you can get writing. The main things to consider are:

  • Your key messages. Make sure relevant key messages are included throughout.
  • Top, middle and bottom funnels. Remember those in the top, middle and bottom funnel, and consider whether your content is catering to them.
  • Consider your target audience and their intent. Try to consider what the searchers are looking for, rather than just giving the information you want them to have. Focus on their pain – if they’re asking a question, answer it before moving on to your key message. You want your audience to feel satisfied with the information they’ve been given, not hoodwinked into purchasing your product.
  • Content length. It’s worth looking at the current page one results for your target keyword to see what the content looks like so that you can write something better.
  • Keywords. Make sure your target and secondary keywords are mentioned throughout (without being too forced – Google will punish you for that).
  • Relevant details. There are certain details that you need for an SEO friendly page, including a title tag, header tagand meta description. All should include the target keyword.
  • Your URL. Ideally, the URL will include the target keyword and be under 60 characters.
  • Images and video. If you’re including images and video, help Google out by giving them descriptive captions, file names and surrounding text.
  • Internal links. Make sure you’re linking to other pages on your website as often as possible. Also make sure to give those links a proper description (i.e. don’t say ‘if you want to see more, click here.’ Instead, say ‘click if you want to learn more about XYZ’.).
  • A content calendar. Google will reward you for quality over quantity, so it’s worth spending time creating a content calendar of about two interesting blog posts a month. 

Once you’ve got your content down, you can find a web agency and produce a brief or get ready to do it yourself. Either way, you’ll need to start tracking your keywords and doing technical spot checks with Search Console. SEO doesn’t stop the moment your website launches – it’s a long-term game that needs constant attention. But it’s all worth it when you start getting some quality leads. Keep at it and it could make a significant difference to your business.

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