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The Dark Side of Speech

A Disenchanted Report on the Decade that Preceded the Invasion of Ukraine

by Carlo Penco (University of Genoa, Italy)

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What is disinformation, and why does it matter? How can we understand and detect different kinds of disinformation? With an analysis of relevant events of the period 2012-2022, the book attempts to answer these questions. The book is organized into four parts. (1) The first part presents the notions of post-truth and fake news using some of the most recent critical studies, analyzing some typical examples and the environment in which some of them originated. (2) The second part introduces the notion of conspiracy theory and describes the emergence of the idea of white supremacy and its ramifications, together with the narratives developed during the COVID restrictions. (3) The third part describes the emergence of the algorithms behind social networks and their role in propaganda, making examples of US and European elections and the Brexit referendum. An analysis of 'Cambridge Analytica' shows the tip of an iceberg of disinformation that is spreading around the world. Some remarks by comedians and philosophers help to give a new view on the concept of freedom of speech, with particular attention to the more and more difficult freedom of the press. (4) The fourth part gives some “emergency tools” for detecting disinformation at an individual level, understanding the most hidden mechanisms of disinformation, and the biases that almost unavoidably enter our minds. These tools come from the results both of traditional theories and the most recent social philosophy of language, not despising references to statistics. This is a fundamental book for having a general survey of this period of political turmoil, consulting a wide list of references and official documents, and having a grasp of the means of intellectual self-defense.
This book is non-standard: it relies on the most sophisticated theories of language and yet it gives everything in simple and colloquial language. Differently from sophisticated analyses of linguistic phenomena, it gives the feeling of participating in a tour around what happened in the last decade, with a disenchanted eye that uses some results of the critical literature, without compelling one to become a theoretician in the field of philosophy or critical analysis. The hidden focus of the book is freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and what they mean today in an era of more sophisticated and widespread disinformation permitted by the algorithms governing social networks...

Acknowledgments
Preface
John Perry
Introduction

PART I Alternative Facts
Chapter 1 Back to Symbolic Communication
Chapter 2 Post Truth: Structure and Origin
Chapter 3 Information Disorder and Ways of Deceiving
Chapter 4 Tools of Deception: Manipulating Pictures
Chapter 5 Tools for Deceiving: Videomaking and Deep Fake
Chapter 6 Fake News: Definitions and Updates
Chapter 7 The Mother of all Fake News: Pizza Connection
Chapter 8 Satanism, Christianity, and Cooking
Chapter 9 QAnon in the US and Europe
Chapter 10 From the “Hoax” of COVID-19 to Kung Flu
Chapter 11 Coronavirus and Scientific Fake News
Chapter 12 The Force and the Weakness of Assertion

PART II NARRATIVES
Chapter 13 Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories
Chapter 14 Flat Earth and the Sages of Sion
Chapter 15 Holocaust Denial and the Great Replacement
Chapter 16 Who Are the Whites? Statistics, DNA, and Terrorism
Chapter 17 Polarization, Election Fraud, and Attacks on Parliaments
Chapter 18 The Pandemic: Democracy or Totalitarianism?
Chapter 19 Overlapping of Narratives on Lockdowns for COVID-19
Chapter 20 The Monstruous Imposition of Face Masks
Chapter 21 No Vax!
Chapter 22 The Profiteers: Not Only Big Pharma
Chapter 23 The Nazi Short-Circuit and the Practice of Projection
Chapter 24 Village Healers –Trust and Trustworthiness

PART III ALGORITHMS
Chapter 25 Big Data and the Limits of Algorithms
Chapter 26 Infowars and Trolls: Learning From Finland
Chapter 27 “Pouring Shit Into the Minds of Europeans.” Troll Factories
Chapter 28 Trolls in the US Elections
Chapter 29 The Tip of the Iceberg: Cambridge Analytica
Chapter 30 Spreading Lies From Brazil to France: Trolls and Bots
Chapter 31 Chains of Disinformation, Legislation, and the Public Arena
Chapter 32 Free Speech and Hate Speech: Alternative Narratives
Chapter 33 Comedians, the Big Divide, and the Metastasizing of the Alt-Right
Chapter 34 Limits of “Liberal” Freedom of Speech: A Philosopher’s Point of View
Chapter 35 The Big Problem: Free Press
Chapter 36 Accountability

PART IV EMERGENCY TOOLS
Chapter 37 Baloney Detection Kit
Chapter 38 The Best Trick: Telling the Truth
Chapter 39 Implicit Dimensions: Insinuations in Context
Chapter 40 Implicit Dimensions: Presuppositions
Chapter 41 Presupposition and Conceptual Blending
Chapter 42 Implicitly Offensive and Toxic Speech
Chapter 43 Biases and Stereotypes: Self-Deception
Chapter 44 Stereotypes in Cancel Culture and Politically Correctness
Chapter 45 Biases, Probabilities and Deaths
Chapter 46 Find the Cheater, Find the Culprit
Chapter 47 Both Sides of the Story
Chapter 48 Sources of Information and Trust

References
Index

After receiving his master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Genoa (Italy), Carlo Penco went to Oxford to study with Sir Michael Dummett, of whom he translated the introduction to 'Frege: Philosophy of Language'. He taught philosophy of science at the University of Salento in southern Italy and later philosophy of language at the University of Genoa, where he became a full professor in 2005. He spent one academic year at the University of Pittsburgh, where he attended a seminar with
Robert Brandom and John McDowell, and he spent a period of research at the Institute of Philosophy in Senate House, London, in 2014, the year that started the discussion about Brexit. He has published books and papers on Frege and Wittgenstein and on different topics in the philosophy of language, mainly on context dependence, definite descriptions, demonstratives, and slurs. He edited many collections, among which: 'Explaining the Mental' (Cambridge S.P. 2007) with Michael Beaney and Massimiliano Vignolo, 'What is Said and What is Not. On the boundary between semantics and pragmatics' (CSLI, Chicago U.P. 2013) with Filippo Domaneschi, a reading on context dependence in the philosophy of language and a popular book, 'I take it back. Uses and Abuses of Insinuations' [in Italian] (2016). He now teaches Theories of Communication, working on different aspects of pragmatics, from Speech acts to implicatures and presuppositions (on which he has also done some experimental work).

Events: Brexit, Cambridge Analytica, Election manipulation, January 6th, Brazil Elections, US Elections,
Concepts: Algorithms, Assertion, Bias, Conceptual Blending, Conspiracy Theories, Disinformation, Fake News, Freedom, Freedom of Speech, Implicatures, Insinuations, Journalism, Narration, Post-Truth, Presuppositions, Slurs, Speech Acts, Social Philosophy of language, Supremacism

See also

Bibliographic Information

Book Title

The Dark Side of Speech


Book Subtitle

A Disenchanted Report on the Decade that Preceded the Invasion of Ukraine


ISBN

978-1-64889-854-9


Edition

1st


Number of pages

636


Physical size

236mm x 160mm


Illustrations

49 B&W

Publication date

June 2024
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