The White House set up a new working group Thursday to fight online harassment, abuse and sexual violence. The initiative was unveiled by Vice President Kamala Harris, who gave little indication that she understood the difference between preventing violence and deterring harassment, the latter of which is beyond clear scope.
“For too many people, the Internet is a place of fear.” said Harris. “It affects all of us if it affects any of us.”
Online harassment is indeed a frustrating and widespread problem; Contrary to the White House’s statement that harassment is aimed primarily at women and minorities, people of all backgrounds struggle to do so if they spend a lot of time online. Pew study from 2017 found that 44% of men say they have experienced online bullying, compared to 37% of women.
“It is true that women who have been abused online have been more than twice as likely as men to describe their last such experience as extremely or very upsetting (35 percent vs. 16 percent).” wrote Katie Young for The reason as early as 2017. “But the interesting thing is that there was no gender difference in the actual negative effects of online bullying, be it mental stress, problems with friends and family, romantic problems, reputation damage or work problems.”
However, in his remarks, Harris focused on the harm to specific groups.
“One in three women under the age of 35 reported being sexually harassed online,” she said. “More than half of LGBTQ + people in our country have survived severe harassment. Nearly one in four Asian Americans reported being called an offensive name, usually motivated by racism. No one should be abused just because they are trying to participate in society. “
It would certainly be better if the Internet – and social media in particular – was a friendlier virtual place. But the federal government has no mandate to criminalize harassment, which is protected speech under the First Amendment. Although it has become fashionable to call any long wave of negative online feedback harassment, criticism is sometimes partially or fully deserved, as was the case with the disinformation king of the Homeland Security Nina Jankovicwhose removal was sympathetic cover from The Washington Post and placed as a result of such harassment.
In any case, it is up to social media companies to develop rules that deal with and define harassment. These rules often fail to strike a good balance between allowing open discussion of controversial topics and deterring filth, but there is little reason to believe that a White House message will make things better. On the contrary, previous attempts by the federal state to crack down on social media platforms have led companies to adopt ridiculously bad policies. Asking Facebook and other sites to ban misinformation and misinformation, the Biden administration has indirectly worked to ban legitimate dissenting opinions related to COVID-19. For months, any open confession of the laboratory leak theory was banned on Facebook.
White House Fact Sheet announcement the online harassment working group makes two references to misinformation, suggests that it falls into the broad category of online abuse, and explicitly states that the government needs to devise strategies to combat it. The press release notes that these strategies will take the form of “recommendations” rather than commands, but given that social media companies are constantly under siege by members of Congress who are happy with the regulation and both parties, they face enormous pressure to comply with whatever the Biden administration has to offer. Several Twitter users have already sued the Ministry of Health and Human Services, claiming that previous instructions from Secretary Xavier Besera and Surgeon General Vivek Murtie led the site to remove their accounts.
“By instrumentalizing technology companies, including Twitter – through pressure, coercion and threats – to censor views that the federal executive has deemed ‘misinformation’, the chief surgeon has turned Twitter censorship into state action.” write The New Alliance for Civil Liberties (NCLA), a legal advocacy group that represents banned users.
Like the disinformation board precedes this, the new White House task force seems incredibly wrong. At the very least, its mission needs to be narrowed down to focus on speech that in some cases falls outside the protection of the First Amendment: real threats of violence, revenge porn (which is illegal in some states), and such.