White House to tackle online harassment, abuse with new task force

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A new White House task force aimed at combating online harassment and abuse will convene for its first meeting Thursday, bringing together officials across the administration to address growing concerns around online hate and the connection to gender-based violence. 

The task force is being launched by Vice President Harris and will be co-chaired by the Gender Policy Council and the National Security Council, the White House announced. 

Recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, highlighted the link between online harassment and extremist acts, an administration official said. In both cases, the gunmen were reported to have posted hateful content and laid out plans for their attacks online ahead of the shootings.

Within 180 days, the task force will provide service recommendations for how the federal government, private sector and civil society can better combat online harassment and abuse. 

The task force will not be focused on particular platforms, but rather the role of platforms and social media more generally, administration officials said.

The effort aims to tackle health and violence concerns stemming from online harassment and abuse. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy will both be at Thursday’s inaugural meeting. 

Tennis champion Sloane Stephens, who has spoken publicly about the harassing messages she received after exiting the US Open, will also be in attendance. 

The launch of the task force comes after the administration last month separately suspended plans for a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) disinformation board weeks after it was announced, following fierce pushback from Republicans and civil rights groups alike.

Administration officials said they are mindful of First Amendment issues in launching the new task force, but said the group is particularly focused on online activities that are illegal conduct, including cyber stalking or the distribution of non-consensual intimate images or targeted harassment.

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