Panel head(s): Peeter TOROP, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Estonia, & Julieta HAIDAR, National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH), Mexico City, Mexico

Names and works of Jakob von Uexküll, Juri Lotman and their colleagues, the founders of world-renowned Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics, form the cornerstone of the Department of Semiotics at the University of Tartu. Since then, starting from the work of these titans of semiotics, the Department of Semiotics of the University of Tartu made tradition and has become one of the most important centers of semiotics in Europe, with deep roots for cultural semiotics and biosemiotics. In this respect, cultural semiotics offers the theoretical foundations required for answering a series of questions that concern the contemporary world (Posner, 2004), such as: How do the signs, sign processes, and sign systems of a culture differ from non-cultural (i.e., natural) signs, sign processes,and sign systems? How do the interpreters of cultural signs differ from those of natural signs? What determines the identity and boundaries of a culture? What relations do different cultures have to each other within the semiosphere? How does cultural change originate? The discussion topics within this panel will attempt to address such questions, will refer to certain aspects of cultural semiotics, but are not limited to:

 Explore and understand different situations and communicative phenomena from the perspective of Lotman’s semiotic theory of culture;

 Apply Lotman’s theories to the analysis of diverse cultural phenomena;

 Compare different sign systems and analyse the processes of translation between them.

Panel head: Evangelos KOURDIS, School of French Language and Literature, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

The panel will examine the media landscape in Europe in a changing world. How do the big European media outlets project East-West relations within the European Union, Brexit, officially acknowledged minorities, Europe’s involvement in global warfare and cultural affairs? What are the intersemiotic/intermedial techniques, the ideological foundations and the new political ideas being disseminated, and how successfully do they affect European citizens? How is European financial and social crisis reflected across various media (television, cinema, ads and TV spots, written and electronic press, radio etc.)? Topics can include:

 Is there a “European public opinion”?

 Is there a specific brand of “European populism”?

 Europe losing the “moral high ground” in political communication

 Europeanizing the US technoscientific conception.

 Implicit and explicit censorship in the EU

 Contemporary European crisis narratives

Panel head: Massimo LEONE, Shanghai University / University of Turin

Neurophysiology and cognitive psychology, visual history and digital art, artificial intelligence and plastic surgery constitute the daring cross-disciplinary perimeter of the panel, which is meant to be an important step in a major research agenda, awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant in 2019 (FACETS: Face Aesthetics in Contemporary E-Technological Societies, June 2019 – May 2024, 2 million Euros). Within this perimeter, a specific issue is investigated: the meaning of artificial faces. Whereas the ability to cognitively deal with images is often used as shibboleth to distinguish between humans and algorithms (for instance, in the captcha test), this distinction is more and more challenged by advancements in artificial intelligence. Since 2018, generative adversarial networks have been given the task to create from scratch facial images that do not correspond to any ontologically present faces. The realism of these “artificial faces” is quite impressive, and often induces human observers to adopt a rhetoric of awe: machines too are attributed the uncanny ability to create images of faces, with such a level of realism that seems to match that of nature itself. Recent experiments with the animation of these “transhuman portraits” add a further level of complexity to the issue of their social reception. The panel is meant to attract contribution on the semiotics of these and other “artificial faces”.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 819649 - FACETS).

Panel head(s): Dumitru BORȚUN, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Romania; & Nicolae-Sorin DRĂGAN, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Romania

This panel approaches directly the act or phenomenon of communication in the light of semiotic theory. Its purpose is to develop the premises for a semiotic theory of communication. While communication was explored thoroughly in the light of other disciplines, and, as such, understood within the perspective of sociology, psychology, cognitive sciences, cultural studies or philosophy of language, semiotics accounts for communication as an act of signification. As such, communication is not accounted for as necessarily dependent on categories such as social interaction, cognitive abilities or cultural background, but as purely a phenomenon of signification. This is the most theoretically general and open panel.

Panel head: Alina BÂRGĂOANU, member of the High-Level Expert Group on Fake News and Digital Disinformation, European Commission; Dean of the College of Communication and Public Relations, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Romania

The fake news phenomenon gained the spotlight during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and international attention has been drawn to the potential effects of digital disinformation ever since. While fabricating and circulating misleading content is not new, modern technologies, computational propaganda techniques, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and the use of trolls facilitate an alarming fake news proliferation rate (Glaser, 2017). Social media and the Internet allow almost anyone to become a content creator and propagate fake or biased content, even make it viral. While reliance on social media for news and information has risen, and distrust in the traditional news media has grown, the effects of digital disinformation became a focal point of interest. As the political discourse has rapidly moved online to target a broader part of the electorate, preserving the democratic dialogue online and popularizing fact checking among the general public are mandatory stepping stones in addressing disinformation. The logic of selective exposure and the data-driven filtering of the information that is included in a user’s social media news stream shape the perceptions of reality in the post-truth era and maintain online media consumers in their own filter bubbles or echo chambers (Smith, 2017), prone to biased and tight perspectives as well as easy victims to fake content. As disinformation became a troublesome force in the digital news media environment, with harsh consequences for democracy (Zengerle, 2016), European institutions, news organizations and tech companies have taken steps to tackle fake news production and disinformation. Given the challenges associated with detecting fake news and mitigating the effects, the panel seeks contributions that address the fake news phenomenon and look into ways to fight disinformation in the 21st century, increase social media utility for democratic discourse, expose disinformation effects in elections and provide media literacy tools. Topics may focus on, but are not limited to:

 Disinformation, Misinformation, and Fakery;

 Fact-checking in a disinformation era;

 Democracy and digital disinformation;

 Digital algorithms;

 Effects of fake news in the digital era;

 From echo chambers and filter bubbles to personal choices;

 Countering online disinformation;

 Politically biased fake news;

 Computational propaganda;

 Media literacy;

 Hate speech in the new media landscape;

 Regulating big tech.

Panel head(s): Andreas VENTSEL, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Estonia, & Bogdan TEODORESCU, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (SNSPA), Bucharest, Romania

Conspiracy theories play a significant role in the viral spread of misinformation that has an impact on the formation of public opinion about certain topics. Conspiracy theories function as relatively universal interpretative frames that have a very high modelling potential. They allow connecting different events that have taken place in various times and places, and involve several actors that seem incompatible for bystanders. Our round-table focuses how conspiracy theories can be used to evoke a hermeneutics of suspicion – a permanent skepticism and questioning of so-called mainstream media channels and dominant public authorities, delegitimisation of political opponents, and the ongoing search for hidden clues and coverups.