The White House is starting a task force focused on the prevention of online abuse, marking one of the most significant steps the Biden administration has taken to examine the connection between digital vitriol and violence, reports the Washington Post.
The launch fulfills a pledge Biden made on the campaign trail to to study online sexual harassment, stalking and nonconsensual pornography, as well as the connection between such abuse and mass shootings and violence against women.
The long-awaited initiative begins after massacres in Uvalde, Tx., and Buffalo, which involved attackers with histories of online threats and radicalization.
“We see this over and over again, we see issues of extremism and how they turn into violence,” said a senior White House official.
Vice President Harris, who has worked to address online exploitation throughout her career, will unveil the task force at a Thursday White House event, which will convene top administration officials, as well as survivors of online harassment and civil society experts.
The task force will have 180 days to create a set of policy recommendations for government, as well as recommendations for tech companies, schools and other entities. It will also recommend additional research.
Harris’s efforts to curb online abuse have been controversial. She was a co-sponsor of FOSTA-SESTA, a law that opened up tech companies to lawsuits if they knowingly hosted sex trafficking on their websites. Opponents said the measure had a chilling effect on online speech and harmed sex workers’ ability to communicate safely.
The Biden administration came into office with expectations to develop protocols to deal with hate and violence that spreads online, notably after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Despite public criticism of social media companies, the White House has taken little action in the area.
The administration’s most high-profile social media initiative to date — the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board — was disbanded after a barrage of attacks. The board’s stated purpose was to “coordinate countering misinformation related to homeland security,” but it became a lightning rod after conservatives raised concerns about online censorship they said might arise.
The White House official said the online abuse task force would be focused on “illegal conduct,” including cyberstalking, online abuse linked to child sex abuse material and trafficking. The White House official said the task force was not focused on any specific social media platform, and that it will “be looking for opportunities to engage with industry experts and leaders.”