There Are No Facts
Attentive Algorithms, Extractive Data Practices, and the Quantification of Everyday Life
The entanglements of people and data, code and space, knowledge and power: how data and algorithms shape the world—and shape us within that world.
With the emergence of a post-truth world, we have witnessed the dissolution of the common ground on which truth claims were negotiated, individual agency enacted, and public spheres shaped. What happens when, as Nietzsche claimed, there are no facts, but only interpretations? In this book, Mark Shepard examines the entanglements of people and data, code and space, knowledge and power that have produced an uncommon ground—a disaggregated public sphere where the extraction of behavioral data and their subsequent processing and sale have led to the emergence of micropublics of ever-finer granularity.
Shepard explores how these new post-truth territories are propagated through machine learning systems and social networks, which shape the public and private spaces of everyday life. He traces the balkanization and proliferation of online news and the targeted distribution of carefully crafted information through social media. He examines post-truth practices, showing how truth claims are embedded in techniques by which the world is observed, recorded, documented, and measured. Finally, he shows how these practices play out, at scales from the translocality of the home to the planetary reach of the COVID-19 pandemic—with stops along the way at an urban minimarket, an upscale neighborhood for the one percent, a Toronto waterfront district, and a national election.
“Compellingly argued and richly illustrated, Shepard recasts lying with statistics for the algorithmic age. Essential reading for anyone interested in how knowledge production is contextualized, corrupted, and used in pernicious ways.”
Rob Kitchin, Maynooth University, author of The Data Revolution
“Internationally recognized as a media theorist and interdisciplinary artist, in his first book Mark Shepard brilliantly explores the way that contemporary algorithms shape discourse on the Internet while exposing the biases inherent to those algorithms.”
Kazys Varnelis, Director Network Architecture Lab
“The compelling episodes and examples in There Are No Facts draw the contours of the post-truth landscape. Now is the time for Mark Shepard's captivating book!”
Molly Wright Steenson, Vice Provost for Faculty and Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University; author of Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape; coeditor of Bauhaus Futures