Why do some facts about the world become well known and ubiquitous, whereas others are relegated to the status of opinion, or become so mired in controversy that they cannot survive the onslaught that they receive from those opposed to them? Why do bad facts travel far and wide, while good ones are stopped short in their tracks? Who has the greatest power over our factual information when facts are born digital?
At the heart of changes to the environment in which facts must travel today is the increasing ubiquity of software code and its role in the mediation of everyday life. Facts are not knowledge. Knowledge needs to take material form in order for it to be distributed and to have influence beyond its origins.
This talk charts the travel of facts across the infrastructure of the Internet, introducing new vocabularies and grammars for the production and appraisal of factual information. Focusing on the travel of facts about the 2011 Egyptian Revolution in the days before Hosni Mubarak resigned as President, it highlights how a new grammar constituted by the interaction between software code, social norms, policies and laws within Wikipedia has created the terrain for facts as they travel through the Internet. The result of a radical decrease in trust accorded to traditional institutions and a turn towards trust in individuals telling what appears to be unmediated truths online – we are witnessing a significant change in how we evaluate authoritative statements about the world.
Heather Ford is a University Academic Fellow in Digital Methods based at the University of Leeds School of Media and Communication. Before moving to academia, she worked for a number of non-profit technology organisations including the Association for Progressive Communications, Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, iCommons, Privacy International and Ushahidi as an activist, research and project manager.