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Agarwal Presents Research on Countering Cognitive Threats in the Digital Age at NATO Symposium

Dr. Nitin Agarwal
Dr. Nitin Agarwal

Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Maulden-Entergy Chair and Distinguished Professor of Information Science at UA Little Rock, presented his research on cognitive threats at the NATO Science & Technology Organization Symposium on Mitigating and Responding to Cognitive Warfare. 

The goal of the research symposium is to increase the understanding of cognitive warfare and its effects, which will lead to more effective prevention and mitigation strategies and countermeasures to increase security among nations and within the NATO alliance. The outcome of the work will support addressing the Warfare Development Initiatives stated in the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept. Cognitive warfare is classified as the sixth warfighting domain beside land, sea, air, space, and cyber.

Cognitive threats through misinformation, disinformation, bots, and artificial intelligence (AI) have already become a key element in conflicts between the U.S., China, Russia, and Ukraine. For example, in the recent conflicts in Ukraine, a current issue is how countries like the U.S. or organizations like NATO fund and support troops on the ground from afar.

Agarwal, who is also the founding director of the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS) Research Center at UA Little Rock, traveled to Madrid, Spain, to present at the symposium on Nov. 13-14, 2023. His paper is entitled, “Developing Socio-computational Approaches to Mitigate Socio-cognitive Security Threats in a Multi-platform Multimedia-rich Information Environment.”

In his presentation, Agarwal noted that socio-cognitive threats are increasingly becoming a collective phenomenon and central in online information environments utilizing multimedia. His study enhances situation awareness by using real-life datasets from COVID-19, the Indo-Pacific region, and participation in NATO exercises dating back to 2013 to develop algorithms that detect, examine, evaluate, measure, and predict cognitive threats like adversarial information campaigns.

Agarwal’s research informs policymakers on how NATO and other affiliated countries can effectively combat the effects of these adversarial tactics and new technologies

“Propaganda disseminated through social media could potentially be used to persuade susceptible targets to disrupt or delay military operations through protests or other ‘non-lethal resistance,’” he said. “Narratives can be easily manipulated and influenced by bots, trolls, and other influence operation tactics, techniques, and procedures.”

Moreover, Agarwal also highlighted the inherent dangers of these adversarial information campaigns, pointing out that “most users of social media cannot or will not differentiate between legitimate and non-legitimate accounts.”

“Since such influence operation tactics, techniques, and procedures can be employed clandestinely in a low-cost, low-risk context, military leaders can expect to encounter an increased amount of adversary-generated, AI-amplified social media-driven propaganda,” he said.