Digital Parrhesia 2.0: Moving beyond Deceptive Communications Strategies in the Digital World

Digital Parrhesia 2.0: Moving beyond Deceptive Communications Strategies in the Digital World

François Allard-Huver (Paris-Sorbonne University, France) and Nicholas Gilewicz (University of Pennsylvania, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8205-4.ch017
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Abstract

Deceptive communications strategies are further problematized in digital space. Because digitally mediated communication easily accommodates pseudonymous and anonymous speech, digital ethos depends upon finding the proper balance between the ability to create pseudonymous and anonymous online presences and the public need for transparency in public speech. Analyzing such content requires analyzing media forms and the honesty of speakers themselves. This chapter applies Michel Foucault's articulation of parrhesia—the ability to speak freely and the concomitant public duties it requires of speakers—to digital communication. It first theorizes digital parrhesia, then outlines a techno-semiotic methodological approach with which researchers—and the public—can consider online advocacy speech. The chapter then analyzes one case of astroturfing, and one of sockpuppteting, using this techno-semiotic method to indicate the generalizability of the theory of digital parrhesia, and the utility of the techno-semiotic approach.
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Introduction

This chapter aims to analyze a variety of deceptive communication strategies and practices taking place in the digital world. Examining phenomena of astroturfing done by corporate actors to sockpuppet comments and other misconduct by private actors, we try to understand how deceptive communications practices are further problematized in the digital space, where ethos depends on a finding a proper balance between the ability to create pseudonymous or anonymous online presences, and the public need for transparency in public speech.

Among these deceptive communication practices we include, astroturfing—fake grassroots campaigns about matters of public interest—presents a special problem to researchers, particularly to those interested in studying the content of advocacy speech. Specifically, the content may be true, and even compelling, but if the honesty of the speaker is questionable, that truth may be a house of cards. This concern is heightened because of the fake accounts or false posts used by so-called “sockpuppets.” In recent years, these wrongdoings even extended to the private sphere with the multiplication of fake social network accounts used for cyberbullying or cyberharassment. These deceptive communication practices threaten the prospect that the Web could function as a public sphere and therefore need to be taken into account in our analysis.

In previous work, we expanded Pramad K. Nayar's application of parrhesia to digital space (2010), relying, as did Nayar, on Foucault's articulation of this ancient Greek concept (Foucault, 2001). In this chapter we further develop our previous research on parrhesia and digital parrhesia (Gilewicz and Allard-Huver, 2012) Thus, we not only derive a model for analyzing the credibility of digital advocacy speech and a model for truth-telling in the digital public sphere, but also implement a theoretical and pragmatic method for understanding ethos and its implication on the web. Parrhesia, or the ability to speak freely, implies three public duties for speakers: to speak the truth, to sincerely believe that truth, and to honestly represent themselves when speaking. Astroturfing, sockpuppets or other online misbehavior that conceals identities in order to reduce the risks of speaking truth to power—or to the public—always fails the latter duty.

In networked space, however, pseudonymous and anonymous speech can work both democratically and propagandistically. We think that the legitimate need to speak the truth in this space does not forbid the right to protect your identity in specific situation, but the examples we chose to explore here show abusive use of pseudonyms or anonymity. This chapter proposes that digital parrhesia helps evaluate deceptive communication strategies and helps understand why such evaluation matters. By using digital parrhesia to analyze these online communication practices, this chapter's analytic model aims to contribute to the preservation—and maybe the revivification of—a culture of truth-telling.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Technological Determinism: A doctrine focusing on the technological evolution of information and communication system rather than on their interaction and their subordination to the society that developed them.

Techno-Semiotic: A way to understand and analyze media and communication phenomenon as being at the crossroad between a construction and a circulation of knowledge and signification, and information and communication technologies seen a savoir-faire serving and accompanying this circulation.

Discourse: A sum of proposition and enunciation that creates a body of knowledge. The circulation of this discourse via media and other form of organization is called “discursive formation” in Foucault’s discourse.

Semiotics: Literally the science of the signs, semiotics is the study of the meaning in every form. Here the perspective adopted is to study communication as an exchange, a construction and a negotiation of sign via the media.

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