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COMMENT: Searching for Africa Check

The search terms that lead readers to the Africa check website are at times entertaining, revealing or downright bizarre. I often chuckle or raise an eyebrow when I log on to Google Analytics, a tool that tells us which content on our website is being read when.

Here is a summary of the search terms that caught my attention since joining Africa Check in July.

How many continents in Africa?

By far the most popular Africa Check report of all time is the post “How many countries in Africa? How hard can the question be?” Since published two years ago the report has been read more than 400,000 times!

Africa is not a country. But for some readers, judging from these searches, Africa is many continents rolled into one.

1 October:       how many continents make up the country of africa

10 October:     how many continent are there in Africa

‘Zuma has a mermaid’

Do you know that “mermaids” is one of the terms Google suggests when you type Zuma in its search block? See for yourself!

What started as a light-hearted fact-check of a photo of two mermaids supposedly caught in the “fire-pool” at the controversial Nkandla residence of  South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, turned into a river of traffic to the website. The report has been read nearly 50,000 times to date and is still being searched for.

19 August:                  Zuma has a mermaid

3 September:              Zuma and the mermaid

17 September:            www.isthereanymermaid injacobzuma'spool

28 September:            Zuma vs snake

2 October:                   zuma mermaid autopsy pictures

Perhaps more fascinating than the ongoing interest in the subject is the different ways you can spell “mermaid” and still reach the  report. I have counted 26 different spellings so far.

Memmaids, mamaids, mermain, mmamaid, momaids, maidman, mermals, murmaide, mumades, meamaide, meiraid, meremaid, mameaid, momedes, mermeids, mamends, mamaide, maidaids, mameid, memeid, mormaid, meimaid, mermermaids, momets, marmmaid,  mairmaid.

Chipping away at untruths

Fact-checking can indeed be fun but we never lose sight of our overarching goal: to stamp out myths and encourage accuracy in public debate.

I feel comforted that we are chipping away at untruths when I notice certain search terms. For example, users sought confirmation time and again for their belief that South Africa’s social grant for children causes teenagers to fall pregnant on purpose to access it.

27 August:      grant money must stop because the rate of pregnancy is high

31 August:      youth social grant should be cancelled in south africa because they are falling pregnant

1 October:       Social grants are contributing towards teenage pregnancy

20 October:    Child grants encourage teenage pregnancy

But there is little evidence to support this myth. In fact, teenage motherhood has steadily been dropping and in an assessment report published by Unicef it was found that the grant raised children’s access to food, education and basic services – as it was meant to.

Then there are crooks, conmen, charlatans and quacks who prey on people desperately searching for a cure for HIV/Aids by claiming that their herbal concoctions, going by names such as Garani-MW1 in Malawi and tashack in Swaziland, can cure them of the virus. People searching for information on these hoax "cures" often end up at our site reading our reports fact-checking the claims.

17 August:                   herbals that treat AIDS

2 September:              herbal cure for hiv

3 September:              Garani-MW1

19 September:            prices of tashack in swaziland market (word aids day)

Hopefully these readers did not fall for the hoaxes or abandon their treatment regime.

Downright bizarre

I am still struggling to work out how these search terms led to Africa Check’s website.

11 September:            rules regarding lice

30 October:                 what is daily life like for white south africans

10 November:             high school classes need to become a south african police

13 November:             does everyone in africa live in shacks

For all its sophistication, Google Analytics cannot yet fully lay bare the whims of human interest.

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