Touchpoint

The Dictionary.com definition of touchpoint is “the point of contact, esp. when products or services come into contact with a customer”

This word feels weirdly modern to me,  so I checked my 1996 Concise Oxford English Dictionary and there it isn’t.

dictionary touchpoing

So I did a quick check using Google ngrams, which looks at the instances of words in published books. I’ve compared it here to the word “touchscreen”. You can see that both terms come into use from about 1980.

compare frequency touchpoint and touchscreen

The word means any point at which a company or organisation interacts with customers, and since the word applies to real world and online it’s useful for companies when they’re considering the customer journey. But too often companies consider the touchpoints in isolation, equating it to channels or (worse!) their organisational chart.

A company might list their touchpoints as billboards, tv ads, banner ads, shops, service offices.

But’s important to consider this from the customer perspective, and a customer might think more about how your receipt is presented rather than that ad you purchased. One of the smart things retailers such as Apple are doing is emailing your receipt to you – which means both parties have the same record of the purchase details. This means more to me than all their TV ads.

In marketing circles there’s a commonly held belief that the more interactions, the more touchpoints you can create with your customers the better. This is illogical and untrue, here’s why:

  • Your customer’s attention is limited, there must be an upper limit of the the number of times you can contact them before you become annoying.
  • Not all touchpoints are happy, your complaints service phone number is also a touchpoint, if I have to call your complaint line five times that doesn’t mean your marketing is working.
  • The more utilitarian your product or service is the less likely it is that your consumer wants to have “interactions”.  The local cinema theatre introduces online ticket purchase but you can’t print tickets – you need to download them at the cinema – why? I can print a bar code at home or have it on my screen for scanning.

The first time I heard this word used I thought it was a nonsense invention, but it turns out to have a useful meaning as a catch-all for all interactions a company has with customers. Just don’t invest in increasing the number of touchpoints without understanding which ones the customer values.

Image:  Touch  |   Sebastian Rieger  |   CC BY-SA 2.0

Digital Governance

Governance is a difficult discussion in a company. For people who like creativity it tends to make their eyes glaze, meanwhile those driven by order and rules sit up and start planning. But governance is just about how you make decisions, and good decision making is essential in any organisation.  In many large companies their digital and social media presence began in a rather ad hoc way, starting in pockets of expertise around the company and only later were pulled together. Sometimes it’s only after a crisis that a real need for good digital governance emerges. Too much governance can restrict and slow an organisation’s decision making, and too little results in chaos. So what does good governance look like?

An Australian organisation aiming to help local governments have better governance created a list of characteristics of good governance. These characteristics also apply to decision making in organisations.

Good governance is;

  • accountable
  • transparent
  • lawful
  • responsive
  • equitable and inclusive
  • effective and efficient
  • participatory

Good digital governance will cover;

  • framework of roles and responsibilities, this is sometimes called a RACI matrix, and it sets out who is responsible for doing the work, who has the decision power, who needs to be consulted or informed. Defining roles for the processes around digital content will give team members some certainty about who does what.
  • digital strategy, define and document the strategic approach you’re making in digital and how it meets business goals.
  • digital policies, these should cover high level management direction such as use of the company logo online, setting up social media accounts, privacy policies.
  • digital standards, minimum acceptable standards, often applicable to the technology, could include defining the maximum acceptable downtime of a website for example.

It’s a lot of detailed focused work to set all of these items up, and they need a regular review – at least annually. It’s important that there is an annual review because digital world changes and what makes sense now won’t in a year.

Your digital presence is about representing your brand, but you also need to do so without creating unnecessary risk. Every project you undertake in a company needs to consider potential risk, here are some  of the brand building initiatives and the risk avoiding steps to be considered. Sometimes it’s the same activity.

Represent Brand Avoid Risk
Consistent branding; strong guidelines Monitoring for content that is incorrectly branded
Asset repository, so that brand is always well represented Monitor for misuse of brand name: phishing sites, false claims etc
Respond to comments and social media posts with brand’s tone of voice Response matrix (examples)
Policies on publication including privacy, content, tone of voice Monitor content published to your social media accounts or as comments on articles you publish
Trained staff working on sites and social media accounts Control access to accounts, name the people who are posting to maintain accountability
Strategic acquisition of domain names Monitor for launch of new top level domains

People like flexibility, and sometimes people have the idea that governance just means lots of rules, and it’s true, there will be rules – or standards or policies. But without governance every decision will be agonising and slow. On an operational level you will create inconsistency, legal risks, and confusion for your audience.

Good governance should be a starting point for your digital teams to do their work. It should put in place policies, standards and decision processes that give the digital experts the guidance they need to do their job well, in a way that builds your brand. It should include a review cycle, particularly digital governance since the platforms change frequently and there are legal changes that you will need to include. Build your governance framework to be flexible, it will then be a more resilient to changes. Think of a tree that bends in the wind, at the end of the storm the tree still stands.

Image:  Lone Tree Wind Sculpture   |   Nick Fullerton   |  CC BY 2.0

 

Memory as a Wikipedia Page

Memory

I don’t know anyone’s phone number, address or email address anymore. I don’t remember appointments, my agenda is on my phone and I get an alert. I don’t remember any of my passwords, they’re stored either in the app or in my browser. If I loose my phone I’m screwed, but only temporarily because all that information is backed up in the cloud somewhere.

On the plus side there is an unlimited memory that I can access in the sense that there is nothing Google doesn’t know, the days of playing Google Whack are over.

We tend to think of memory as being a storage, our own biological repository of true things that really happened, our own database that we can Google to recall.

It turns out that human memory functions less like a database and more like Wikipedia. That is we can create overwrite and change what we recall, and – here’s the wiki bit – other people can distort our memories. In this TED talk Elizabeth Loftus talks about the ways our memories can be subtly altered by what people ask us and even what words they use.

As shown in the video this has implications in crime solving, eye witness accounts can be manipulated as people are primed by something as simple as replacing the word “hit” with “smashed” in a description of an accident.

But it also has implications for all of us, having a wikipedia page for a memory is how we become vulnerable to gaslighting,  an insidious form of manipulation that includes persistent denial of the truth, deliberate lying, and manipulating the environment to make the victim doubt their own memory.

The usual setting for gaslighting is within a relationship, and it has been connected with narcissistic or sociopathic personalities and with abuse.

But what if we can all, collectively fall victim to gaslighting?  This accusation has been hurled at various politicians, most recently at the new President of the US. Various news outlets have called his behaviour gaslighting, including Business Insider, The GuardianCNN, Teen Vogue, the Washington Post, NBC, and the earliest example I could find in the Telegraph. The antidote to this has been the rise and rise of fact checkers.

The good news is that we have a global database now, it’s called the internet and we can search for sources, explanations, and the person’s own words.

The other piece of good news is that because our memories are wiki pages we can consciously choose to re-write the memory. For many years I was vaguely claustrophobic, I would avoid small spaces and if I had to be in one I would get highly anxious, never to the level of a full panic attack but unpleasant. I thought it was due to one event where for a joke two guys picked me up and shut me into the boot/trunk of someone’s car. When they finally let me out I was crying, shaking, and furious.  I changed the “script” of that event and cast myself as a circus performer escaping, Houdini-style, from the car’s boot with feather headdress and a flourish.  Am I cured? Well I won’t be joining the Speleology Club any time soon but I’m not anxious in a lift/elevator any more.

Our memories record the good and the bad stuff, just like wikipedia; and just like wikipedia the can be edited. Pay attention, be aware of the editing.

If you think you’re being “nudged” to change your view check the facts. If you think you need a record of something photograph it. Use the tools to help you keep a database, your brain won’t.

When I travel around the Netherlands by train I leave my bike at central station, amongst the 4,000 other bikes and I don’t always remember where I parked it. I’ve taken to photographing the view from where the bike is parked. My memory on bike location is definitely a wiki page, and I seem to randomly recall previous page versions.

Image: Memories  |  Stefanos Papachristou  |  CC BY-NC2.0

 

Happy World Password Day

Happy World Password Day! I know it’s more fun to celebrate May-the-Fourth in other ways, but this is important.

Passwords are how we keep our online accounts secure, and yet the most common passwords are horribly simple to guess. Every year password keeper releases a list of the most common passwords and every year “123456” and “qwerty” are on the list.

Passwords must be both memorable and hard to guess, the conflict between those two needs is the fundamental problem.

Many sites require you to use combinations of uppercase, lower case, numbers, and symbols in the name of making it harder to guess or crack a password.

However the resulting password is not easy to remember, and as humans use common substitutions, it remains vulnerable to cracking by computer.

To make a password hard to break you need to make it longer, use a range of characters, and avoid dictionary words. Something like this.

According to Kapersky labs it would take 33 centuries to crack this password by a single home computer. Most hackers have more computer power so could do it in fewer centuries.

There are two factors making it hard for computers to guess, the randomness of the characters used and the length of the password. As the wonderful XKCD explained we can use the length to make passwords more secure and memorable.

One of the challenges of managing online passwords is that we have so many of them. Often they can be saved on your device or in your browser, but this carries its own risks. If you lose your device or someone cracks your browser password (in the case of chrome) the person gains access to all your accounts. You can use a password manager, there are many on the market and PC Mag evaluated 12 of them.

There’s a lot of advice out there on changing your password, it’s often a mandatory practice on websites and within companies. But it’s usefulness as as security measure is dubious, in fact because people tend to then use a transformation on an old password the system might be less secure.  One company requiring mandatory changes also prevented reuse of password elements for 20 changes. Luckily there are twenty regions of Italy. Of course if there is a password breach on any website you use you must change affected passwords.

To find a good memorable set of words look to poetry, quotes or song lyrics. Using the Kaspersky Labs password check Beyonce’s lyrics fare pretty well although  the words are dictionary based and not particularly random.

Please take time today to celebrate World Password Day by making your passwords more secure

  • choose long secure passwords
  • use different passwords for each site
  • use two factor authentication when sites allow it
  • consider a password manager
  • if you write down your passwords anywhere don’t keep it with the device.

Image: mine, and no, that’s not a real password

Your Job Title

Your Job Title

What is your job title?

Digital Prophet, Chief Happiness Officer, Scrum Master, Paranoid-in-Chief, Hacker in Residence and Bacon Critic are all real jobs. There are even weirder ones than that around. It turns up on documentation, your email signature, your linkedin profile, websites and badges/labels at conferences.

How much does your job title matter?

It’s part of the first impression you make, and as first impressions are often online that occupational descriptor is important.

Your job title should say something about the field you work in, it might only be meaningful within that field. One of my communications colleagues used to delight in introducing me as a web mistress, to his ears it sounded much naughtier than the standard web master. I didn’t object to it on those grounds, but because “webmaster” has a specific meaning in the world of digital, and I do not have those skills.

Titles can also indicate your seniority, and in hierarchical companies that can make a difference to how you are treated. There can be differences in different countries, at one company I’ve worked with the media relations team had two sets of business cards, one for Europe and one for the US which used the identifier “VP” for vice-president.

In large companies there’s often a standardised list of titles that describe roles for an occupational framework. In one company that used such a job framework the official, HR sanctioned, job title I had was never used outside the company. Instead I chose something that was simple, descriptive and short. The digital field is littered with obfuscating titles, I didn’t want to add to the mess.

If you’re able to choose your own title go for something that describes you and lets people know your work. Be realistic, you want to be signalling to people who receive your business card what you really do. Make sure it aligns with your expertise and your seniority. If you work in a hierarchical company check that it’s in line with your colleagues  and your boss’ expectations.

You can create any job title, there’s even an online generator to help you. One word of caution, avoid the crazy terms, they may ruin your credibility.

Having said that my all time favourite job title was Chief Nerd.

Image:  Name Badges  |  University of Exeter  |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Organic Growth

organic growth seedling

This is an old term that’s garnered a new twist in the era of social media.

Organic Growth in Business

Organic growth for a business dates back to at least the 1950s and refers to the growth in a business that relates to improvements from its normal operations, here’s how Scottish craft brewery company BrewDog has increased their growth -organically – over the years.

  • increased output
    In 2012 BrewDog moved to a state-of-the-art brewery, their output in 2013 was double the output of 2011. With developments to the brewery production was more than doubled by 2015.
  • increase in customer numbers
    BrewDog is UK-based gained new customers in 2008 by expanding exports to Sweden, Japan and America.
    They have also grown by opening their own bars, and now have a total of 44.
  • a new product release
    BrewDog began with one beer, Punk IPA, and has added dozens of others,  including the punny Jack Hammer, seasonals such as Hop Fiction, and the alcohol free Nanny State.

BrewDog are famous for their self-promotion and stunts, but their double digit growth figures tell of effective organic growth.

Organic Growth in Social Media

Organic growth in social media usually applies to growth in number of followers that comes from what you provide on your account, rather than paid promotion or paid advertising. It’s a baseline growth in your account figures before you look at the impact of campaigns.

  • effective content
    Philips worked on creating an instagram account filled with wonderful content around the theme of #LightIsLife, and increased their follower number by 50% in six months (engagement figures also went up)
  • Word of Mouth or Great PR
    When the JoeBama memes caught the imagination of a nation during a fraught election campaign they were featured in all sorts of standard publications, earning the originators thousands of followers.
  • Crisis
    Less happily when your company is in the news for negative reasons the number of followers might increase, along with the number of comments and negative reactions.

Although it’s getting harder and harder to grow an audience based on organic growth alone, it’s increasingly a case of “pay to play”, it’s worth monitoring your organic growth. Unless you’re in a crisis it does tell you something about the appeal of your content.

It’s a useful term and one that’s easy to understand in social media terms if you know the general business use.

Image:  Seedling  |  US Dept of Agriculture  |  CC BY 2.0

Freedom of Expression Awards – Digital

Freedom of Expression

The winners of the annual Freedom of Expression Awards were announced lat week. These awards “exist to celebrate individuals or groups who have had a significant impact fighting censorship anywhere in the world”, and they fall into four categories: Arts, Campaigning, Journalism, and Digital Activism.

We’re used to thinking of freedom of expression as the ability to say what we want and how we want, and we know that all over the world people campaign for this and other rights so the first three of those seem intuitive. Digital Activism is very of this era and the entries used digital in diverse ways.

Turkey Blocks  – the winner

A campaign/tech team that monitors and publishes information on censorship and government blocking of the internet, particularly social media platforms. They have been able to identify 14 mass censorship events that coincide with political events, and their tools will be used elsewhere in the world.

Jensiat

An online graphic novel that aims to help Iranians understand cyber-danger, and sexual health. Each episode helps readers understand cyber issues such as protecting their privacy online. One goal was to make tech less “male”, and empower women to use technology. Unsurprisingly it was censored by the Iranian government.

Bill Marczak

A digital sleuth who has investigated government attempts to track journalists and activists in Bahrain, and uncovered technological weaknesses and spyware that put them in danger.

Evan Mawarire

A campaigner for better democracy in Zimbabwe his #ThisFlag campaign kicked off with a video of himself wearing his nation’s flag and led to mass protests. It’s now illegal for a flag to be in private ownership. It’s a mark of a campaign’s effectiveness when the government makes stupid laws in response.

The description for the category is “for innovative uses of technology to circumvent censorship and enable free and independent exchange of information”. Two of these finalists are there because the delivery of their campaign content was digital, and two are there because they did something in the digital ecosystem to understand and expose censorship. It’s a little hard for me to see the publication of a video online as innovative use of technology – YouTube has been around since 2005 – but the impact was high and Evan Mawarire was arrested on his return to Zimbabwe.

Look back at past winners in this category there is a strong reminder of just how great the risk of fighting for these rights can be. Bassel Khartabil won in 2013 for his work on creating a more open internet in Syria. He was not able to accept the award in person as he had been arrested, he is still imprisoned, and other activists are fighting for his release five years on.

Freedom of Expression is a basic right and the cornerstone of a functioning free society, the kind of society I want to live in. All the finalists are fighting for rights I pretty much take for granted, and I really shouldn’t, the rights were hard won and can be destroyed. ,

Image:  Artist Studio   |   See Ming Lee   |   CC BY-SA 2.0

World Earth Day

Saturday is World Earth Day, this year’s theme is “Climate Literacy” which is needed more than ever. I have been reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History which is scary warning for all that is going wrong with our natural environment.  It essential, if depressing, reading. So I started to look for some signs of hope, technology that is making things better, and simple ways to make my habits more sustainable.

Food

One big impact on our environment comes from what we eat, the high level of meat in our diet has a negative effect in terms of land use, water use, pollution and green house gas emissions. Some experts conclude that we just need to eat less meat, according to Mark Bittman in a TED talk from 2007 “Less meat, less junk, more plants”. There are a couple of answers for the future that don’t require you to give up all the bacon.

Cultured Meat

Also called synthetic meat, fake meat, clean meat or in vitro meat, depending on the view of the writer. It has given rise to all those stories of the World’s Most Expensive Burger, tasty Chicken treats, and pet medication. As far as I know there’s no synthetic bacon that passes the taste test – yet.

Insects

I have eaten scorpion.

What we eat is largely culturally determined, and while in the west eating insects has a high cultural barrier around the world thousands of people eat insects – deliberately.

So where did I eat scorpion? In China, there was a translation issue, or a pronunciation issue since the word for scorpion (xiēzi) is quite close to the word from eggplant (qiézi). Or perhaps it was the waiter’s little joke on the foreigners. The scorpion is technically an arachnid, rather than an insect, but the idea is the same. They come deep fried, which denatures the poison and they’re, um, crunchy.

If you feel ikky about eating insects it’s a barrier you can overcome, indeed we may have to.

What can you do?

  • reduce the amount of meat you eat, experiment with meat-free Mondays, or only eat meat in the weekends.
  • pay attention to the source of your meat, if you’re eating less you can pay more for meat from animals that have been grazing outdoors.
  • learn to cook vegetarian meals, the lentil is your friend.
  • plan your meals so that you reduce food waste.

Clothing

Fashion has evolved a ‘fast fashion‘ ethos, where we add to our wardrobe continuously with cheap clothes designed not to last. This consumes resources and creates waste as we throw away clothes after relatively few wears. The waste created is reaching crisis proportions, with Americans discarding 35 kilograms of clothing per year. Some estimates reckon that clothes on the fast fashion cycle stay in a woman’s closet just five weeks. There is a lot to think about in the quest to buy sustainable clothing.

coffee grounds

There are advances being made in the actual composition of the fabric used in clothing, using soy, recycled nylon, or coffee grounds.  Some of the companies are also developing closed loop systems so that everything developed will be recycled again.

There are also entrepreneurs working on new crops for fabric, bamboo is promising as a source but it’s manufacturing process seems to be a problem. Alpaca, wool and hemp also provide sustainable options, in each case you need to now about the source and the processing to be really sure.

What can you do?

  • pay attention to fabric type and source, avoid toxic fabrics
  • check manufacturing process, ask who made your clothes
  • when buying a garment ask yourself if you would wear it at least 30 times, this is the #30wears campaign started by Livia Firth. (Hat tip Mathilde Teuben)
  • repair your clothes, you should be able to sew on a button yourself, but there are tailors in every city. Two winters ago I paid for a winter coat to be re-lined, I think it cost 50 euro but that was cheaper than a replacement coat and it’s lasted two more winters.
  • consciously recycle, if you research where discarded clothing goes, it’s often landfill.

Energy

The two best options for large scale sustainable energy use are solar and wind.

Solar Power

Tesla Power wallTesla has created the Powerwall, a system to harness and store solar energy. Designed for domestic use sales were were high through last year, and this provides a good option for small scale use, but is limited when it comes to those of us living in apartments – I don’t have any roof space on which to install solar panels.

If solar panels on roofs aren’t a full at-scale solution what other surfaces could be used for solar panels? The Netherlands is midway through an experiment on using a solar bike path, results in terms of user testing are positive, although the surface probably isn’t strong enough for use on a roadway. However at a cost of about 3 million euro to build a 70m stretch of bike path we’re a long way from a convincing business case.

Wind Power

wind powerThe Netherlands has offshore windfarms, you fly over them if you’re arriving from the UK. I had naively thought that Europe was doing well on installing wind power as  form of renewable energy, but in fact China is doing better than any other country.

China is the biggest installer of new wind power capacity, installing about half of the new wind power capacity each year. In fact wind energy has become a major industry with at least six turbine companies.

We’ll need a much faster growth of renewable energy options in the west if we’re going to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbon energy forms. This matters for two reasons:

  • we will eventually run out of hydrocarbons, we’re already struggling to sustain supply without damaging our environment and resorting to fracking, arctic drilling and deep sea drilling in pristine environments.
  • the pollution from the use of hydrocarbons is poisoning our oceans, and our atmosphere.

What can you do? Reduce your energy consumption:

  • Take public transport
  • Ride a bike
  • Lower your central heating and put on a sweater
  • Insulate your house – even closing the curtains at night lowers the energy needed to heat your apartment.

Plastic

We have known for a long time that plastic (incidentally often made from oil) do not biodegrade and that they create pollution.  Plastic is a major component of landfill, and in our oceans it has created a floating rubbish patch in the north Pacific. There are municipal recycling schemes in Dutch cities to encourage recycling of plastic, but total plastic recycled is still less than 10%.

Some work has gone into making biodegradable plastics or packaging. The latest is an algae membrane used to package single serves of water, the packaging is even edible. It works as a single serve option but it’s a flawed solution, and will never replace the existing options.

What can you do to lower your plastic use?

  • carry a shopping bag
  • shop at a market that doesn’t package fruit/vegetables
  • carry a water bottle
  • avoid drinking straws and plastic packaging (I am sitting in a cafe that is making the change to no plastic, starting with paper straws)
  • more ideas on the Trash is for Tossers blog

Activism

Companies and governments change on the basis of what people want, eventually. I know it may seem hard to believe some days. So tell them.

  • refuse the plastic straw at the bar and say why
  • buy from companies who are sustainable
  • talk to companies about what they could do better: by phone, letter, email, Facebook or twitter
  • boycott companies that don’t improve – and tell them
  • support an NGO that works on sustainability issues with a donation, your time, your voice
  • tell others about companies and initiatives you’ve heard of that are sustainable.
  • recycle your rubbish
  • call on your city to provide recycling measures
  • call on business to support recycling measures

The Answer

There’s no easy answer here, everything we do has an impact on the planet, all we can do is make choices to reduce our impact. Reduce what we consume, re-use items, re-purpose others, recycle as much waste as we can.

And speak up, tell companies that you expect sustainable products, tell your elected officials that you want a world for the next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after…

Image:  Earth  |  Kevin Gill  |  CC BY-SA-2.0

Fake News

fakenewsFAKE NEWS!

The rise and rise of this term has made it even harder to determine what to believe, although it has a very long dishonourable history. I’ve taken to checking and rechecking posts before commenting. But yesterday a friend posted an article claiming that the BCC and CNN had faked reports of chemical attacks in Syria. Both those organisations attract criticism for bias but are generally respected for their journalism, so I checked. It’s been debunked as invented by Russian journalists. Shortly after someone posted a very unlikely-sounding story about massive ill treatment and incarceration of LGBTx people in Chechnya, the source was Daily Mail and I refuse to click on Daily Mail links but I can Google it. Horrifyingly it’s true, with multiple reports from credible sources.

How can you tell if something is really fake news?

Let’s be clear there are a number of ways a news report can be wrong.

  • error
    the news centre may have got its facts wrong. Reputable news organisations avoid this and apologise quickly when it happens.
  • bias
    the news centre may have a stated bias, The Economist for example is slightly right wing, the Guardian is slightly left.  You can read both of the same events. In fact that’s healthy.
  • misleading
    the news centre starts with a viewpoint and presents information to support that viewpoint. Most news centres are guilty of this at some point (and remember editorial is not the same as news). At last year’s remembrance service in London one news outlet claimed that the leader of the Labour political party had danced, and they had the pictures to prove it.
  • facts are fabricated with the idea of changing your opinion, this is what I would consider “fake news”, and the above story that BBC/CNN had fabricated information on attacks in Syria falls into this category. As does a certain head of state’s statements on many issues.
  • satire
    there are some great satire pieces out there, but as the news gets weird it can be hard to tell which is real. That is predicted by Poe’s Law.

There are four things to consider when examining the news

  • what quality is the source?
  • how accurate is the reporting?
  • is there bias in the reporting?
  • is it a joke (satire)?

There’s a graphic doing the rounds online that puts these characteristics into one handy chart. (Originally created by Vanessa Otero)

media analysis

I’ve seen some criticism out there already, from both sides, so please use this as a starting point to create your own guide on what to read. (Personally I’d have put “The Atlantic” to the right of the Grauniad).

There is a call for the various social media to do more to prevent the publication of fake news – particularly following the climax of Pizzagate when a guy with a gun turned up at an innocent Pizza joint based on fake news reports. BBC’s Click Podcast covered some of the reasons that technology is not and easy, or complete, answer.

FactCheck.org produced a guide on spotting fake news, their whole article is worth reading but this infographic summarises the main points.

How to spot fake news

Note that we need to check our own biases. A lot of news is being presented in a very binary fashion, with predictable partisan lines being drawn. Checking our own biases means being aware of how our own views play into what we want to believe. We all need to hold ourselves to a high standard in what we read, repeat, post, and believe.

My reaction to the flood of news reports from the various world horrors going on is to check and recheck the news I’m reading and to try to read mostly from the upper oval, in light green. I’m also trying not to get into link wars, but to have discussions and add links when asked for evidence. I have also take to asking people for evidence of their claims, so far none of the people asked have been able to provide any (even the Facebook friend who virtually shouted at me to “GO and READ”.)

There’s no technical solution to fake news.  It comes down to all of us paying attention. We need to find ways of distinguishing the real news, understanding our biases, being vigilant on what we believe and taking responsibility for what we post.

POSTSCRIPT

Alvaro Cabellero kindly sent me a link to Mike Caulfield’s excellent article How “News Literacy” Gets Web Misinformation Wrong. It’s a sixteen minute read; the tldr advice is;

I have a simple web literacy model. When confronted with a dubious claim:

  • Check for previous fact-checking work

  • Go upstream to the source

  • Read laterally

It’s a good process, and will get you to an assessment of the quality of the journalism pretty quickly.

Image:  News  |  Jenn   | CC BY 2.0

 

Scandals and Company Culture

Shhh; Scandal and culture

Years ago a court judge in New Zealand was convicted of expenses fraud, the judge’s defense was that he hadn’t understood what the forms required. The public reaction was disbelief; either he just thought he could get away with it or he was too stupid to be a judge.

Since that early example I’ve looked at company scandals and the explanations given with a suspicious eye. In every case there are signs of how the company culture has effectively colluded around the scandal – it’s never just one person, it’s people turning a blind eye, it’s fear of whistleblowing, it’s the company culture, it’s the CEO.

Following the Enron scandal I heard a story, possibly apocryphal, of a manager who joined the company. Shortly after joining he heard that the ambitious revenue targets had been sent out across the company, requiring a jump of 25% in sales from one quarter to the next. At the end of the next quarter, to his amazement, those sales targets had been met across the company. He smelt something rotten and decided to update his CV and move on, he was not surprised when the Enron scandal broke. At the time it was the biggest corporate bankruptcy the world had seen. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed to prevent scandals of this scale ever happening again (it didn’t).

In the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme his family members were involved in the company, including his brother who was appointed as Chief Compliance Officer. There are rules in many companies about potential conflict of interest when partners or family members work together.

More recently Wells Fargo came under fire for the cross-selling scandal where staff opened credit card accounts for non-exisiting clients in order to meet targets. In companies employees focus on what gets rewarded; and when enough pressure is applied from their bosses and their colleagues some will break rules to meet those targets. The company directors’ failure to halt the scheme was called “gutless” by Elizabeth Warren – the company maintains that the employees – all 5,600 of them (so far) acted alone. Either the bosses knew or they should have know, but so far none have taken responsibility.

John Oliver’s piece on the US police system exposes the myth of the “one bad apple” and looks at some of the systemic issues behind the fatal police shootings in the US. The failures of process and policy erode the public trust in the police, reducing their ability to their job.

The points John Oliver makes could equally apply to businesses.

  1.  Leadership
    Your leader must lead, her actions must demonstrate her high ethical standards and she should speak clearly and frequently about the company’s ethics.
  2. Monitor/Collect data
    We can now analyse data and patterns of performance, look at patterns and changing patterns. At a financial institute I worked at we were required to take a break of at least two weeks. HR sold it as being good for employees but my security colleagues gave another explanation, the two week break was long enough to highlight any odd activities.
  3. Avoid conflict of interests
    Keep review processes independent, external if possible. Don’t hire siblings or partners into the same field. Declare any outside interests that might raise a red flag – I wrote some columns for a (former) supplier. I had to declare this and I donated the income to charity to remove any potential conflict. Independent reviews make a difference
  4. Transparent Processes
    The more open you are, the more public you can be about your processes, the less opportunity there is for fraud or scandal. A very simple example; some universities are using blockchain to certify their qualifications, as that becomes a public record there is no chance to create a fake degree.
  5. Rewards
    Be careful what you reward, that will direct the employee’s focus and in extreme cases leads to unethical behaviour to reach stretch targets.
  6. Whistleblower procedure
    Even with all the best practices in place something could go wrong. Create a robust, independent whistleblower procedure.  Whistleblowers are generally punished for coming forward, be the exception.

Building a scandal resistant company culture is not easy; not doing so is expensive, even fatal.

Image: Shhh  |  Grey World  |   CC BY 2.0