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
© 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.
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, Dubois, E & Puschmann, C 2016, 'Keeping Ottawa honest-one tweet at a time? Politicians, journalists, wikipedians, and their Twitter bots', International Journal of Communication, vol. 10, pp. 4891-4914.
© 2016 Heather Ford, Elizabeth Dubois, & Cornelius Puschmann. WikiEdits bots are a class of Twitter bot that announce edits made by Wikipedia users editing under government IP addresses, with the goal of making government editing activities more transparent. This article examines the characteristics and impact of transparency bots, bots that make visible the edits of institutionally affiliated individuals by reporting them on Twitter. We map WikiEdits bots and their relationships with other actors, analyzing the ways in which bot creators and journalists frame governments' participation in Wikipedia. We find that, rather than providing a neutral representation of government activity on Wikipedia, WikiEdits bots and the attendant discourses of the journalists that reflect the work of such bots construct a partial vision of government contributions to Wikipedia as negative by default. This has an impact on the public discourse about governments' role in the development of public information, a consequence that is distinct from the current discourses that characterize transparency bots.
Dubois, E & Ford, H 2015, 'Trace interviews: An actor-centered approach', International Journal of Communication, vol. 9, pp. 2067-2091.
© 2015 (Elizabeth Dubois & Heather Ford). The current communications environment is characterized by a complex and hybrid system. Individuals use multiple digital platforms in various ways to communicate politically. This presents both theoretical and methodological challenges. As a response, we propose trace interviewing, an actor-centric method that employs visualizations of a user's digital traces during the interview process. Trace interviews are useful for enhancing recall, validating trace data-generated results, addressing data joining problems, and responding to ethical concerns that have surfaced in the current era of surveillance and big data. If the challenges of the method are successfully navigated, trace interviewing could allow researchers to respond creatively to new questions about the current, complex political communication environment.
© The Author(s) 2014 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav. In the past three years, Heather Ford—an ethnographer and now a PhD student—has worked on ad hoc collaborative projects around Wikipedia sources with two data scientists from Minnesota, Dave Musicant and Shilad Sen. In this essay, she talks about how the three met, how they worked together, and what they gained from the experience. Three themes became apparent through their collaboration: that data scientists and ethnographers have much in common, that their skills are complementary, and that discovering the data together rather than compartmentalizing research activities was key to their success.
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: Where does wikipedia get its information from?', Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium on Open Collaboration, WikiSym + OpenSym 2013.View/Download from: Publisher's site
We ask what kinds of sources Wikipedians value most and compare Wikipedia's stated policy on sources to what we observe in practice. We nd that primary data sources de- veloped by alternative publishers are both popular and per- sistent, despite policies that present such sources as inferior to scholarly secondary sources. We also nd that Wikiped- ians make almost equal use of information produced by as- sociations such as nonprots as from scholarly publishers, with a signicant portion coming from government informa- Tion sources. Our ndings suggest the rise of new inuential sources of information on the Web but also reinforce the tra- ditional geographic patterns of scholarly publication. This has a signicant eect on the goal of Wikipedians to repre- sent \the sum of all human knowledge." Categories and Subject Descriptors H.3.4 [Information Systems]: Systems and SoftwareInfor- mation Networks; H.5.3 [Information Systems]: Group and Organization Interfacescomputer-supported collabora- Tive work General Terms Human Factors, Measurement. Copyright 2010 ACM.
Ford, H & Geiger, RS 2012, '"Writing up rather than writing down": Becoming Wikipedia literate', WikiSym 2012 Conference Proceedings - 8th Annual International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Editing Wikipedia is certainly not as simple as learning the MediaWiki syntax and knowing where the "edit" bar is, but how do we conceptualize the cultural and organizational understandings that make an effective contributor? We draw on work of literacy practitioner and theorist Richard Darville to advocate a multi-faceted theory of literacy that sheds light on what new knowledges and organizational forms are required to improve participation in Wikipedia's communities. We outline what Darville refers to as the "background knowledges" required to be an empowered, literate member and apply this to the Wikipedia community. Using a series of examples drawn from interviews with new editors and qualitative studies of controversies in Wikipedia, we identify and outline several different literacy asymmetries. © 2012 ACM.
Geiger, RS & Ford, H 2011, 'Participation in Wikipedia's article deletion processes', WikiSym 2011 Conference Proceedings - 7th Annual International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration, pp. 201-202.View/Download from: Publisher's site
We present results on a study of two levels of Wikipedia's article deletion process: speedy deletions (or CSDs) and articles for deletions (or AfDs). Our findings indicate that the deletion process is heavily frequented by a relatively small number of longstanding users. In analyzing the rationales given for such deletions, it is apparent that the vast majority of such deleted articles are not spam, vandalism, or 'patent nonsense,' but rather articles which could be considered encyclopedic, but do not fit the project's standards. © 2011 Authors.