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VP Harris heading new online disinformation, harassment, abuse task force

Vice President Kamala Harris signs bill on June 16, 2021, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
June 17, 2022

Vice President Kamala Harris is heading up a new “harassment and abuse” internet task force at the White House announced Thursday, which will also seek to combat “disinformation campaigns.”

The task force aims to “assess and address online harassment and abuse that constitute technology-facilitated gender-based violence.”

One of the functions by which it carries out its mission is by “developing programs and policies to address online harassment, abuse, and disinformation campaigns targeting women and LGBTQI+ individuals who are public and political figures, government and civic leaders, activists, and journalists in the United States and globally.”

While “disinformation campaigns” are an included target of the task force, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday said she wasn’t familiar with how much of the task force’s focus would be on “disinformation.”

The task force will submit a blueprint within 180 days outlining the federal government’s approach to combating “technology-facilitated” violence, including how federal departments and agencies will act in preventing and addressing it. It is then required to submit reports each year to the president.

In her speech announcing the task force on Thursday, Harris said “for far too many people … the internet is a place of fear.”

Harris pointed to people being called “an offensive name” on the internet, which she largely attributed to race, as well as issues of cyberstalking, online hate and abuse, and privacy violations.

The task force “will tackle a threat that has been far too real for far too many people for far too long,” Harris said. She added that the task force’s recommendations will also “help modernize the federal government’s response to violence … lead to more evidence-informed policies and interventions, and it will support more federal funding to address online harassment and abuse.”

Other members of the task force include Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.

The task force’s announcement comes after the Department of Homeland Security unveiled its Disinformation Governance Board in April to combat online disinformation. The board nested within the department, in addition to few details released about what specific actions the board would be taking, led to outrage and concerns of internet censorship carried out by the federal government.

It’s not yet clear what government actions the new White House task force would recommend or eventually adopt in its aim to target harassment and abuse.