12

A 8 July 2023 tweet contained a snippet of an America This Week vodcast, with author Walter Kirn:

Kirn: The thing that stunned me the most was the Government's contention repeated in the ruling that your thoughts, your comments on social media represent something called "cognitive infrastructure".

[...]

So this incredible miscarriage of English was used to justify the idea, that, just as we must repair bridges and we must maintain roads, we must repair and maintain the thoughts of the American public.

In the context of the Missouri v Biden case, did "the government" contend that thoughts and comments on social media are "Cognitive Infrastructure", and the government has the right to control public infrastructure?

3
  • 20
    I think the initial statement contains a blatant misrepresentation of what was said; the idea that your comments on social media was cognitive infrastructure, rather than the platform being cognitive infrastructure, seems like a deliberate misunderstanding to me. Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 22:11
  • 7
    There is also a big gap between thought and 'though written down'. I can think all day that 'x should be killed when exiting, as usual, their house on Y avenue, number Z, at H hour, M minutes and i would pay any amount for it, plus they are usually carrying about 15k in cash' - write it down and most governments will get involved in this 'thought' - now called 'call for murder' --- Thinking out loud is usually not as protected as thinking itself. At least i know of no case where the prosecution had to rely on psychics.
    – bukwyrm
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 11:35
  • 1
    There's a big difference between "controlling" and "repairing". Of course the government has the right to pursue policies that it thinks will result in greater mental health. Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 2:52

3 Answers 3

27

No, but Judge Doughty implied elsewise in his ruling

From point 28 of the Missouri v. Biden ruling by Judge Doughty:

On November 21, 2021, CISA Director Easterly reported that CISA is “beefing up its misinformation and disinformation team in wake of a diverse presidential election a proliferation of misleading information online.” Easterly stated she was going to “grow and strengthen” CISA’s misinformation and disinformation team. She further stated, “We live in a world where people talk about alternative facts, post-truth, which I think is really, really dangerous if people get to pick their own facts.”

Easterly also views the word “infrastructure” very expansively, stating, “[W]e’re in the business of protecting critical infrastructure, and the most critical is our ‘cognitive infrastructure.’” Scully agrees with the assessment that CISA has an expansive mandate to address all kinds of misinformation that may affect control and that could indirectly cause national security concerns.

On June 22, 2022, CISA’s cybersecurity Advisory Committee issued a Draft Report to the Director, which broadened “infrastructure” to include “the spread of false and misleading information because it poses a significant risk to critical function, like elections, public health, financial services and emergency responses.”

The Advisory Committee report "Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Misinformation and Disinformation" does not broaden the definition of infrastructure, but rather indicates that the spread of misleading information can pose a risk to function in critical infrastructure.

CISA's mission is to strengthen the security and resilience of the nation's critical functions. The spread of false and misleading information can have a significant impact on CISA’s ability to perform that mission. CISA should take a similar risk management approach to these risks that it takes to cybersecurity risks

Borrowing from a growing body of research , we define misinformation as information that is false, but not necessarily intentionally so; disinformation as false or misleading information that is purposefully seeded and/or spread for a strategic objective; and malinformation as information that may be based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate. The spread of false and misleading information poses a significant risk to critical functions like elections, public health, financial services, and emergency response. Foreign adversaries intentionally exploit information in these domains (e.g., through the production and spread of dis- and malinformation) for both short-term and long-term geopolitical objectives. Pervasive MDM diminishes trust in information, in government, and in the democratic process more generally.

There are no references to public infrastructure, but part of the CISA's remit involves the "Critical Infrastructure" in the Critical Infrastructure Information Act of 2002, and in the "Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act of 2022", which indicates that the government should take

measures to prevent the digital manipulation of elections, electoral data, and critical infrastructure.

I suspect that the confusion is that "Critical Infrastructure" is also defined on the DHS page as the following:

Critical infrastructure includes the vast network of highways, connecting bridges and tunnels, railways, utilities and buildings necessary to maintain normalcy in daily life. Transportation, commerce, clean water and electricity all rely on these vital systems.

TL;DR

Neither the CISA nor the general Biden administration have claimed that they have the right to control "cognitive infrastructure". Director Easterly and the CISA have indicated that they are "beefing up" teams that try to root out misinformation and disinformation including speech talking about the prevention of misinformation about critical infrastructure as protecting the "cognitive infrastructure".

And, from there, apparently Walter Kirn decided that infrastructure is infrastructure, so the prevention of misinformation about elections, "critical infrastructure", is tantamount to claiming the right to control "cognitive infrastructure" in the same way that roads are maintained as "public infrastructure".

3
  • I think you might mean 'elsewhere' instead of 'elsewise' but I don't see anything about 'thoughts' here. The quoted sections all speak about information which is a wholly different thing.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 16:49
  • @JimmyJames: From my perspective, the judge phrased things to make it sound like the CISA was claiming a right to control cognitive infrastructure, including stating things in the documents that aren't actually there. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 18:12
  • I guess what I'm not seeing is where the judge implied something related to 'thoughts'. Perhaps it's more that the assertion in the question that 'cognitive infrastructure' means 'thoughts' may be a bad assumption.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 19:14
1

Mind you, I'm not an expert, but I found this information suggesting that "confidence in election procedures" is part of the critical functions (defined at National Critical Functions and National Critical Functions Set) found in Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Misinformation and Disinformation.

CISA should focus on MD that risks undermining critical functions of American society including:

  • MD that suppresses election participation or falsely undermines confidence in election procedures and outcomes.
  • MD that undermines critical functions carried out by other key democratic institutions, such as the courts, or by other sectors such as the financial system, or public health measures.
  • MD that promotes or provokes violence against key infrastructure or the public.
  • MD that undermines effective responses to mass emergencies or disaster events.

See also: CISA Director Jen Easterly on 'Cognitive Infrastructure' (YouTube)

-2

OODALoop has a couple of articles about "cognitive infrastructure", specifically citing the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

  • National Cognitive Infrastructure Protection: What Can We Learn from the Swedish Psychological Defence Authority?

    This article defines cognitive infrastructure:

    The nation’s cognitive infrastructure includes the mental capacities of our citizens and the decision-making ability of people, organizations, and our government. It also includes the information channels used to feed our decision-making capabilities and the education and training systems used to prepare people and organizations for critical thinking.

  • The CISA CSAC: Cognitive Infrastructure Research and Election Public Messaging

    This article quotes from the June 2022 Report to the CISA Director: Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Mis- Dis- and Mal-information (MDM) Subcommittee:

    The spread of false and misleading information poses a significant risk to critical functions like elections, public health, financial services, and emergency response. Foreign adversaries intentionally exploit information in these domains (e.g., through the production and spread of dis- and malinformation) for both short-term and long-term geopolitical objectives.

    [...] The First Amendment of the Constitution limits the government’s ability to abridge or interfere with the free speech rights of American citizens. The First Amendment and freedom of speech are critical underpinnings of our society and democracy. These recommendations are specifically designed to protect critical functions from the risks of MDM, while being sensitive to and appreciating the government’s limited role with respect to the regulation or restriction of speech.

2
  • 1
    So.... did the US government claim that it has the right to control cognitive infrastructure? It's not clear from your answer whether you're actually addressing that.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 1:32
  • 1
    Removed some links that claim that the US Government/Military-Industrial complex is engaging in disinformation campaigns. That wasn't the question. Removed a link that claims the Pentagon is involved in censorship. That wasn't the question.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 13:10

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .