Building a Healthy Cognitive Immune System: Defending Democracy in the

This is a precarious time in which democracy is being undermined by groups that excel in the creation and distribution of infectious social-media-ready viruses. The attack vectors they employ are designed to exploit network dynamics. These attack vectors include structural manipulations such as nudging, dark advertising, censorship, search engine optimization, and shadow banning; dirty tricks such as impersonating, trolling, leaking, doxing, phishing, and hacking; false information such as misleading narratives, disinformation, hyper-partisan media, astroturfing, deepfakes, and AR/VR; and attack bots such as sleeper bots, botnets, sockpuppets, social bots, roadblock bots, approval bots, and amplifier bots. These attack vectors also exploit cognitive biases in humans—including the mere-exposure effect, confirmation bias, the bandwagon effect, truth bias, ingroup bias, and the spiral of silence—that psychologists and behavioral scientists have identified and cataloged over the years. While cognitive biases may convey certain benefits, they can also make us susceptible to misinformation that raises prejudices, fears, and beliefs that work against flourishing within a functioning democracy.

For democracy to thrive we must develop immunity activators for healthy cognition. The immunity activators discussed in this report include building and using public media platforms, creating new data ownership rules that treat data as personal or public assets, creating realistic tech approaches to fight digital deception that combine computational power with qualitative insight, developing early warning systems to signal when regulatory interventions are needed, facilitating new social media norms that promote prosocial online behaviors, practicing media literacy strategies that go beyond traditional critical thinking skills to increase self-awareness and promote social cohesion, and creating independent platform review bodies that promote transparency.


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