The White House will set up a working group to curb online abuse and harassment

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The White House will launch a working group on Thursday focused on preventing online abuse, noting one of the most significant steps the Biden administration has taken to investigate the relationship. between digital vitriol and violence.

The launch fulfills Biden’s promise during the campaign to convene experts to study online sexual harassment, harassment and pornography without consent, as well as the link between such violence and mass shootings and violence against women. The long-awaited initiative began after the massacres in Uwalde, Texas, and Buffalo, which involved attackers with a history of online threats and radicalization.

“We see this again and again, we see problems with extremism and how it turns into violence,” a senior White House official told reporters during a conversation Wednesday night.

Prior to the massacre, shooter Uwalde often threatened teenage girls online

Vice President Harris, who has worked to tackle online exploitation throughout her career, is due to unveil a working group at a White House event Thursday that will convene senior officials as well as survivors of online harassment and civil society experts. Once launched, the task force will have 180 days to create a set of policy recommendations for the government, as well as recommendations for technology companies, schools and other organizations. He will also make recommendations for further research.

Harris’s efforts to curb online abuse have a controversial history. She was a co-sponsor of FOSTA-SESTA, a law that opens technology companies to litigation if they knowingly host sex trafficking on their websites. Opponents of the law said the measure has a chilling effect on online speech and impairs the ability of sex workers to communicate safely.

Harris’s involvement follows her work as California’s attorney general when she filed a lawsuit against the operator of a cyber-exploitation website, and her efforts as a senator to illegally share illegal images without consent. There is still no federal law banning such activities. The working group is co-chaired by the White House Gender Policy Council and the National Security Council and includes the Attorney General, the Minister of Health and Human Services, and other heads of federal agencies and political councils.

The Biden administration has taken office with great expectations to develop protocols to deal with hatred and violence that are spreading online, especially after the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021. But despite public criticism of social media companies, the White House has so far does not take little action in the field.

The administration’s most famous social media initiative to date – the Interior Ministry’s Disinformation Management Council – was disbanded after a series of attacks. The board’s stated goal was to “coordinate the fight against disinformation related to internal security”, but it became a lightning rod after conservatives expressed concerns about online censorship, which they believe may arise from the initiative.

How the Biden administration allowed right-wing attacks to thwart its disinformation efforts

A White House official said the online abuse task force would focus on “illegal behavior,” including cyberbullying, online child sexual abuse and trafficking.

“We are very aware of the issues of the First Amendment,” the official said. “But the ban on threatening speech is not protected by the First Amendment. So while we focus carefully on these issues, we will also remain focused on the non-verbal aspects. “

Online harassment is widespread and affects disproportionately young women and adult lesbians, gays or bisexuals. Thirty-three percent of women under the age of 35 say they have been sexually harassed online, compared to 11 percent of men, according to the Pew Research Center. About 7 in 10 adult lesbian, gay or bisexual people have faced online harassment, according to the same data.

The White House spokesman said the task force was not focused on any specific social media platform and would “seek opportunities to engage with experts and industry leaders” to improve the safety and design of their products.

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