White House launches task force to study link between online harassment and mass shootings

The White House on Thursday announced a new task force that will investigate links between online harassment, mass shootings and violence against women and members of the LGBTQ community.

The move comes after two accused lone wolf mass shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, were linked with disturbing internet activity prior to their massacres.

Payton Gendron, who is accused of murdering 10 people in a racist attack on a supermarket in Buffalo, posted a lengthy manifesto explaining his beliefs and describing his descent into the world of online extremism.

Salvador Ramos, who murdered 19 children and two students at an elementary school in Uvalde, is said to be sending cryptic, angry and scary messages online to women, including some he didn’t know. When they didn’t respond, he threatened to rape or kidnap them, later pretending it was a joke.

A senior government official said the task force will examine “the link between online misogyny and radicalization”, adding that the Buffalo shooting “highlights the link between” online radicalization and the perpetration of violence.

Vice President Kamala Harris will unveil the task force at a White House event that will include Attorney General Merrick Garland and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, both of whom will serve on the panel.

The Gender Policy Council, founded by President Biden, and the National Security Council will co-chair the task force.

Ultimately, the panel will make recommendations to federal agencies, state governments, social media companies, schools and other private organizations to address online harassment. It includes plans to tackle various types of online terror, including harassment, revenge porn, cyberstalking and deep counterfeiting, and how they relate to offline violence.

“These recommendations will focus on increasing support for survivors of online harassment and abuse, as well as research to better understand the magnitude of the problem,” the official told reporters.

The official said the task force will make recommendations to the private sector, including social media companies, but will not focus on a specific online platform.

Government officials touted the panel as one of Mr Biden’s many efforts to protect women, calling it one of the most aggressive efforts to stop online abuse in the US

The creation of the task force was a campaign promise by Mr Biden, who posted some details about it on his website shortly after his election in November 2020.

In recent months, social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google have faced increased pressure to curb online harassment and extremist content. The companies have taken some steps to clean up their platforms, but the problem is still a big problem on the internet.

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