On Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris launched a new national task force aimed at helping to address and combat online harassment and abuse. 

According to a White House press statement, the task force will primarily focus on online harassment and abuse that disproportionately impacts women and girls, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. The task force aims “to prevent and address technology-facilitated gender-based violence, including a focus on the nexus between online misogyny and radicalization to violence.” 

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, President Biden signed a memorandum to establish the initiative, highlighting the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas.

“The tragic events in Buffalo and Uvalde have underscored a fact known all too well by many Americans: the internet can fuel hate, misogyny, and abuse with spillover effects that threaten our communities and safety offline,” the White House press release states. Harris also noted that the Uvalde shooter “had threatened to kidnap, rape and kill teenaged girls on Instagram.”

Within 180 days of its launch, the task force will develop recommendations for how the federal government, state governments, technology platforms, schools and other public and private institutions can better combat online harassment and abuse. Proposals will focus on increasing support for survivors of online harassment and abuse, expanding research to better understand the problem, enhancing youth-focused prevention, and strengthening accountability for offenders and online platforms.

The White House’s Gender Policy Council and the National Security Council will co-chair the task force, whose members include Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, among many other agency officials, as well as survivors and advocates. 

A survey of more than 10,000 U.S. adults conducted in September 2020 by the Pew Research Center found that about 41 percent of Americans have personally experienced some form of online harassment, while 25 percent have experienced more severe harassment, such as stalking and physical threats. Additionally, one in three women under the age of 35 report being sexually harassed online, and more than 50 percent of LGBTQIA+ individuals report being the target of severe online abuse.

The inaugural task force meeting included testimonies from survivors and experts, including tennis champion Sloane Stephens, who spoke publicly last year about the racist and misogynistic messages she received after losing the U.S. Open. 

“No matter whether I win or lose, someone online is mad,” Stephens said on Thursday. 

The task force will not focus on any specific technology platform, but rather “on the role of platforms and social media more generally,” as well as “illegal conduct” online, reported CNN.

“No one should have to endure abuse just because they are attempting to participate in society,” Harris said during Thursday’s meeting. “All of us have a responsibility to stand together to support those who have gone through this, but to also recognize they shouldn’t have to be alone fighting on this issue.”

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