Cybersystemic Media Design to Counter Cognitive Warfare: Toward a Peace Plan

Peter JonesCivil media, Cybernetics, Media Ecology

Presented at ISSS Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2024 Presentation PDF

As a knowledge weaver between the SDA and the systems societies, I often attend both the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) and the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) conferences. This year both were held in Washington, with an IFSR Conversation Day even held between these two meetings.

I presented two parts to a series of talks that draw on media ecology and cybersystemics to develop arguments and strategies for long-term “peace plan” to counter the deleterious societal effects of the militarized information arena, in the domain of what has been called “cognitive warfare.”

A cybersystemic framework to counter pervasive, multi-platform information control is proposed. NATO and other militaries have championed so-called information operations, the multiplexed multiple-channel insertions of semantic propositions disseminated as media campaigns. These mobilizations take shape at scales from short-form social media insertions to mainstream televised programs. The policy doctrines of NATO’s new warfighting domain of cognitive warfare have changed the landscape of propaganda and even warfare itself. Military complexes are managing information spaces through targeted attacks, sentiment management, and content source control to manipulate attention and facilitate consent.

Theory building reveals the complex problematique of military-industrial media and managerial power over media platforms. A reflexive, growing awareness of information psychological operations has emerged, but citizens are unable to recognize when subjected to cognitive warfare.  McLuhan’s laws of media describe the influence of media systems, in particular the “ground” that arises in gestalt relationships to alter expected behaviors. A distributed model of second-order recognizance can provide a mode of counter-influence in the cognitive media mindspace.

The movement from information to cognitive domains threatens information platforms and providers, as it represents an undeclared second-order centralization of influence. From a McLuhanist perspective, the medium (domain of real control) has shifted from communication to inscriptions of beliefs. The use of propaganda formulas (Ellul) has transitioned from mass media to a veritable command and control system. Propositions include several claims:

1) The emerging media frames of mis/dis/mal-information are deceptions layered upon normalized channels to dissuade the recognition of intent of messages within an attention-degraded awareness field. The use of conventional information channels for mass communication creates a control process mobilized under a “command intent.”

2) As widely-distributed messages are plausibly fragmented (fractionated) to create an emergent effect of organic messages (along with information suppression), the medium for normal messaging has shifted from that of a signal carrier to an enveloping surround that reinforces belief maintenance at a population level.

3) The use of psy-information ops continues largely within the domestic populations of interest, as belief maintenance sustains the continuity of managerial governance. The use of political tropes and cultural signifiers (memes) is increased within the medium to further sustain managerial intent.

A critical power and meta-analysis decomposes “cognitive” warfare as a perpetual semantic influence program of algorithmic dominance seeking (e.g. Boyd OODA model). The framework uses systemic design methods (e.g. influence modeling, loop analysis, intervention strategy) as strategic responses.

The problematique of 21st century sociopolitical information and cognitive conflict has not been addressed from a nonpartisan cybernetic perspective. Minimal prior work has been found in the literature from the perspective of technocratic harm or of the mental health problem of a possibly permanent entrainment of covert orienting programs, intended to guide belief maintenance over extended periods of human existence. We might strongly consider the actual mental and physical harms incurred by military casualties of the constantly-poisoned information environment in Western society.