The information war
The White House announced on Thursday it was establishing an interagency task force to fight harassment and abuse online. The US government said such behavior disproportionately affects women, girls, and LGBTQ individuals, as well as racial minorities, and has blamed it for the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde.
Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State are among the departments represented on the panel, as well as US President Joe Biden’s chief domestic adviser, Susan Rice.
Biden officially signed the task force into being on Thursday, and gave it 180 days to come up with recommendations for federal policies to combat harassment and abuse online. US Vice President Kamala Harris opened the panel’s inaugural session, but will not be in charge of the task force. Instead, it will be co-chaired by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Jennifer Klein, the director of the Gender Policy Council.
The White House claimed that online abuse and harassment “aim to preclude women from political decision-making about their own lives and communities, undermine the functioning of democracy” and especially target “women and LGBTQI+ political leaders, public figures, activists, and journalists.”
The US government sought to link online behavior with the recent mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and in Buffalo, New York – the latter of which federal prosecutors have charged as a racially motivated hate crime.
“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 said in a ‘fact sheet’ published on Thursday.
In addition to the heads of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Education and Veterans Affairs, however, notable members of the new panel include Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, as well as USAID administrator Samantha Power and chief domestic policy adviser Susan Rice.
Also in attendance on Thursday was Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who notably called on big tech platforms to censor “misinformation” in July last year.
Biden’s proclamation directly refers to the “scale, reach, and amplification effects of technology platforms” that he says “exacerbated gender-based violence,” and claims that “online radicalization can be linked to gender-based violence, which, along with other forms of abuse and harassment, spans the digital and physical realms.”
The new task force comes less than a month after Homeland Security put on hold its plans to establish a ‘Disinformation Governance Board’, a body officially dedicated to combating “mis-, dis- and mal-information” across the legacy and social media space. Announced by Mayorkas in April, the board was widely criticized as an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.” The news of its temporary demise was leaked to Taylor Lorenz, a controversial Washington Post columnist who claimed to have been a victim of persistent online harassment.