Associate Professor Heather Ford is Head of Discipline for Digital and Social Media in the School of Communications at UTS. She has a background working for global technology corporations and non-profits in the US, UK, South Africa and Kenya. Her research focuses on the social implications of media technologies and the ways in which they might be better designed to prevent misinformation, social exclusion, and algorithmic bias.
Heather completed her DPhil (PhD) at the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University. She has a Masters in Information Management and Systems (MIMS) from the University of California, Berkeley iSchool and has worked as a fellow at Leeds University, Stanford University, as a Google Policy Fellow and as a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand LINK Center. Before her postdoctoral studies, she worked for a number of non-profit technology organisations including the Association for Progressive Communications, Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International and Ushahidi. She was the Executive Director of iCommons, a global non-profit organisation started by Creative Commons between 2006 and 2008. She has been on the boards of the Wikimedia Foundation, iCommons and The African Commons Project where she worked towards the goal of fairer, more flexible intellectual property provisions for the Internet, particularly in developing countries.
She has published in a variety of journals including Big Data and Society, New Media and Society, the International Journal of Communications, Social Studies of Science and a number of Advanced Computer Machinery (ACM) journals. She is a founder editor of ethnographymatters.net and reviews articles for a number of journals and conferences in the fields of science and technology studies, media and communication and media ethics.
- DPhil (PhD) Oxford University (Oxford Internet Institute)
- MIMS University of California Berkeley (School of Information)
- BJourn Rhodes University (Journalism and Media Studies)
- 2013: ‘Enhancing Humanity’s Collective Wisdom’ Prize. Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University
- 2013: Named as one of Africa’s most powerful women in tech by ITNewsAfrica
- 2012-2015: Clarendon Scholar and Desmond Tutu Award, University of Oxford
- 2011: James R. Chen Award for Final Masters Projects, UC Berkeley Information School: Honourable Mention
- 2010: Google Policy Fellowship
- 2009: UC Berkeley School of Information Fellowship
- 2004: Stanford University BASES social entrepreneurship award
- 2003: Stanford Reuters Digital Vision Fellowship Program Scholarship
- 2003: British Chevening Scholarship
- 2000: Rhodes University Academic Colours
- 2015-2017 (Principal Investigator) Software Sustainability Institute. Data Ethics for Digital Social Science Research
- 2016 (Principal Investigator) Leeds University, Researcher Mobility Award. Political Bots Project
- 2016 Communities and Culture Network+ The Person in the Data. Digital Methods Toolkit Project
- 2013 – 2014 (Principal Investigator) University of Oxford. Doctoral Training Centre Grant to launch the Oxford Digital Ethnography Group (OxDEG)
- 2014 (Co-investigator) University of Oxford, Fell Fund. Wikipedia geographies
- 2007-2009 (Principal Investigator) Ford Foundation. Local Context, Global Commons
- 2005 – 2006 (Co-investigator) International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Commons-sense: Towards an African Digital Information Commons
- 2005 (Principle Investigator) Shuttleworth Foundation. Copyright, Copyleft and Everything In Between
- Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR)
- Human-Machine Communication Interest Group, International Communication Association
Can supervise: YES
Wikipedia, Wikidata and collaborative knowledge production
Automated media (including newsbots and digital assistants)
Algorithmic bias and digital media ethics
Digital ethnography and digital methods
Social media events
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. News media organisations are experimenting with a new generation of newsbots that move beyond automated headline delivery to the delivery of news according to a conversational format within the context of private messaging services. To build the newsbot, journalists craft statements and answers to users’ questions that mimic a natural conversation between a journalist and user. In so doing, journalists are experimenting with styles of communication that reflect very particular journalistic personas. We investigate the persona of the news chatbot created by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the better to understand how the public broadcaster’s forays into social media service delivery and automation are shaping new relationships between public service broadcasters and their audiences. We find that, for a section of the audience that uses it, the friendly newsbot contrasts favourably with their previous experience with news and the journalists who produce it. The public service journalists who operate the bot are, in turn, using the bot to try to reach new audiences by experimenting with a more informal, intimate relationship with citizen users. The supposedly “intelligent” (but in actual fact very much human-crafted) newsbot is the vehicle through which this new relationship is being forged.
Bodkin-Andrews, G, Page, S & Trudgett, M 2018, 'Shaming the silences: Indigenous Graduate Attributes and the privileging of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices', Critical Studies in Education.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. An increasing number of Australian universities are committing to Indigenous Graduate Attributes across a wide range of academic disciplines. This paper critiques not only the slow up-take of Indigenous Graduate Attributes in the last 10 years, but also how such attributes may realistically contribute to university students graduating with increased 'awareness', 'knowledges' and 'abilities' to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. It is reasoned that any commitment to Indigenous Graduate Attributes must be carefully and critically monitored for the silencing effects of colonial narratives that also are prevalent throughout Australian Indigenous Studies (which is arguably the foundation of realising Indigenous Graduate Attributes). Drawing from a diversity of Indigenous standpoint theories, critical studies and research methodologies, the paper offers a critical evaluative framework through which both Indigenous Graduate Attributes and the content within the teaching and learning of Australian Indigenous Studies may be evaluated. This includes an acute awareness of imposed colonial narratives, a critical awareness of one's own positioning, engagement with Indigenous voices, knowledge of Indigenous Research Methodologies, and more meaningful levels of Indigenous engagement through Indigenous ethics and protocols.
Ford, H, Pensa, L, Devouard, F, Pucciarelli, M & Botturi, L 2018, 'Beyond notification: Filling gaps in peer production projects', NEW MEDIA & SOCIETY, vol. 20, no. 10, pp. 3799-3817.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Ford, H & Wajcman, J 2017, '"Anyone can edit', not everyone does: Wikipedia's infrastructure and the gender gap', SOCIAL STUDIES OF SCIENCE, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 511-527.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Ford, H & Graham, M 2016, 'Provenance, power and place: Linked data and opaque digital geographies', ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING D-SOCIETY & SPACE, vol. 34, no. 6, pp. 957-970.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Ford, H 2014, 'Big Data and Small: Collaborations between ethnographers and data scientists', Big Data & Society, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 205395171454433-205395171454433.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Reades, J, Desrochers, P & Ford, H 2013, 'Review: Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, the Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs, Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life', Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, vol. 40, no. 4, pp. 755-760.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Ford, H 2020, 'Rise of the underdog' in Wikipedia@20, MIT Press.
This chapter focuses on the accountability of platforms – a key question for researchers of digital politics. We set out a research agenda for answering the question of how platform power is held accountable that is both empirical and normative. Empirically, we emphasize the need to trace how accountability actually operates in practice. What accountability mechanisms exist, how are they used by publics, how do platforms respond, and with what effects? At the same time, we outline a normative agenda to investigate what genuine accountability requires and how existing accountability practices compare to this standard. Informed by deliberative approaches to democracy, and drawing in particular on Rainer Forst’s work on justification, we argue that the accountability of platforms is a question of their power being justified adequately to affected publics and that this depends on the quality of the discursive processes through which decisions about platforms are justified. Focusing on the quality of discursive processes allows us to distinguish critically between cases where publics merely accept platform power, unreflectively and in contexts of limited information and choice, to cases where power is justified through good reasons tested through inclusive public discourse.
Sorenson, L, Ford, H, Al-Saqaf, W & Bosch, T 2019, 'Dialogue of the Deaf: Listening on Twitter and Democratic Responsiveness during the 2015 South African State of the Nation Address' in Media, Communication and the Struggle for Democratic Change, Springer International Publishing, The Netherlands, pp. 229-254.View/Download from: Publisher's site
This chapter investigates the use of social media as a channel of communication between citizens and government. It draws on the concept of ‘listening’ in democratic communication (Couldry, N., Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics After Neoliberalism. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2010; Dobson, A., Listening for Democracy: Recognition, Representation, Reconciliation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). In the run-up to the 2015 State of the Nation Address, the South African presidency conducted a listening exercise on Twitter, which failed on all counts. Combining quantitative and qualitative analyses of Twitter conversations, the chapter evaluates the quality of listening and identifies the reasons for the collapse of the conversation. The findings suggest that while poorly performed listening campaigns can result in spiralling frustration among citizens, social media platforms like Twitter can also provide opportunities for governments to listen in a manner that serves a more positive relationship with citizens.
Sen, SW, Ford, H, Musicant, DR, Graham, M, Keyes, OSB & Hecht, B 2015, 'Barriers to the Localness of Volunteered Geographic Information', CHI 2015: PROCEEDINGS OF THE 33RD ANNUAL CHI CONFERENCE ON HUMAN FACTORS IN COMPUTING SYSTEMS, 33rd Annual CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), ASSOC COMPUTING MACHINERY, Seoul, SOUTH KOREA, pp. 197-206.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Ford, H, Sen, S, Musicant, DR & Miller, N 2013, 'Getting to the source', Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium on Open Collaboration - WikiSym '13, the 9th International Symposium, ACM Press.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Ford, H & Geiger, RS 2012, '"Writing up rather than writing down"', Proceedings of the Eighth Annual International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration - WikiSym '12, the Eighth Annual International Symposium, ACM Press.View/Download from: Publisher's site