Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Presidential Action to Establish the Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse
5:05 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Okay. Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us this evening. Really appreciate you tuning in.
I just want to start this call with a quick reminder that this call is on background, embargoed until tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m. Eastern. You may attribute the context of the call to a “senior administration official.” Today, you will hear from [senior administration officials].
And with that, I’ll kick it over to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, I was muted. Am I unmuted?
MODERATOR: Yes, you’re back.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So sorry. Did you hear anything, because it seemed to do that and —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay.
MODERATOR: Nope, we’re just starting.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, I’m going to start again then, with apologies. And good evening.
The President made a campaign promise to convene a national task force to prevent and address online harassment and abuse. And this task force is charged with developing recommendations for federal and state governments, for technology platforms, schools, and other public and private entities.
Tomorrow, the Vice President is going to host an event launching the task force, and she will be joined by Cabinet officials, advocates, and, most importantly, survivors.
The task force is — aims to address the growing problem of online harassment and abuse, which disproportionately targets women, girls, and LGBTQI+ people.
It will be co-chaired — the task force will be co-chaired by the Gender Policy Council and the National Security Council. And it includes the Attorney General, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and other heads of federal agencies and White House policy councils.
You know, just to take a step back about the “why” here, the President made this commitment because in the United States, one in three women under the age of 35 report being sexually harassed online, and over half of LGBTQI+ individuals report being the target of severe online abuse.
So what are we going to do? Within 180 days of launching, the task force is going to provide a blueprint for recommended steps the federal government can take to counter this issue, as well as suggestions for actions in partnership with the private sector and with civil society. And these recommendations will focus on increasing support for survivors of online harassment and abuse, as well as expanding research to better understand the impact and the scope of the problem, improve prevention efforts, and strengthen accountability for offenders and for platforms.
As you all well know, it’s imperative that we commit to better understanding and addressing the nexus between online misogyny and radicalization to violence.
You know, sadly, the — the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde highlight these links between online harassment and abuse, hate, and extremist acts. The Buffalo shooter, for example, was very explicitly radicalized online. And his manifesto espoused the “great replacement theory,” which is, of course, rooted in racism, misogyny, and xenophobia.
And that’s just one example. We see this over and over again when we see issues of extremism and how they turn into violence.
The task force is just one element of the President and Vice President’s strong commitment to unify communities and to tackle hate and violent extremism in all its forms.
I’m going to turn this over now to [senior administration official]. [Senior administration official], over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official].
So, as [senior administration official] just said, tomorrow, Vice President Harris will launch the White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse, which the Gender Policy Council and the National Security Council will co-chair. We also note that the Attorney General, Merrick Garland, will be present, along with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Sloane Stephens, the U.S. Open Tennis Champion survivor and mental health advocate.
As [senior administration official] had noted, the task force, within 180 days, will provide a series of recommendations for how the federal government, in partnership with the private sector and civil society, can better combat online harassment and abuse.
And just to take a step back, the Vice President has had a long record, as many of you know, of standing up to hate and exploitation. From her days as Attorney General of California to her tenure in the U.S. Senate, and even starting out her career as a district attorney focused on sexual assault and child exploitation cases, she’s led the fight against bad actors and has pioneered innovative ways to secure safety and privacy rights in the digital world.
I’ll just focus on her attorney general record for a second. She successfully prosecuted one of the first-ever cases against tan operator of a cyber exploitation website. She also launched the Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit to prosecute individuals who infringe on the privacy rights of others. This unit was the first of its kind for the California Department of Justice at the time.
Furthermore, as Attorney General, she secured an agreement with the leading operators of tech companies that have mobile application platforms to enhance privacy protections — basically, privacy agreements for millions of users on their smartphones, tablets, and other devices.
Her longstanding work in this area takes on an additional significance as the potential overruling of Roe may jeopardize data privacy.
As a senator, she introduced legislation that would have made these acts that we were just talking about a federal crime. So, she has led and will continue to lead the effort, along with the President, to dismantle cruelty, bullying, violence, and hate wherever it exists.
Back to you.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, [senior administration officials]. With that, we will take your questions.
Great. First question, we’ll turn it over to Chris with The AP.
Q Hi, everybody. I just want to make sure I understand what’s happening tomorrow, specifically. It seems like what’s going to be happening tomorrow is the announcement of a task force that will eventually issue recommendations, not — we’re not going to get the recommendations tomorrow, if I understand that correctly.
And lastly, I just want to make sure I understand: What is the role of the National Security Council in this effort? And will we see Xavier Becerra there tomorrow, given HHS’s role?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Chris. So the answer your first question is: Yes, this is the launch of a task force. It’s actually — it’s also its first meeting. So what we will be doing is also hearing testimony from experts and survivors. And the meeting will be attended by a number of the different agencies and White House offices that are part of the task force.
We will not see Secretary Becerra because he’s not able to be there. But Surgeon General Murthy will attend in his place, as will Attorney General Garland.
The other question about the role of the National Security Council is: Yes, they will be co-chairing the council with us. And you know, the — the reason for that is the obvious connections. Two things — one is the obvious connection between online harassment and abuse and extremism, hate, and violent acts, and the threat that has caused.
One of the things that actually we will also be touching on tomorrow and announcing tomorrow is some research from the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center under the Department of Homeland Security, which shows the nexus between online misogyny and domestic terrorism. So that just is one example of some additional things we will be announcing tomorrow.
And I feel like there was one more part of your question.
Q No, you got it. Just beyond that misogyny is connected to the Uvalde shooter that — that’s the connection there, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Yes.
Q Okay. That’s it. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Chris and [senior administration official].
Next, we’ll turn it over to Kellen with the New York Times.
Q Hi, thanks very much. I was just wondering, and I know this is going to be the first meeting, but is there any sense of whether there are particular online platforms or social media sites, anything like that, that you expect to be the focus of this task force? Is there any — any area in particular that you’re going to be focusing on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are not focused on particular platforms. We are absolutely focused on the role of platforms and social media more generally, and the connections and their role. And as I said at the — at the outset, there will be recommendations for the private sector and for civil society, but we’re not focused on any particular platform.
Q Got it. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next, we’ll go over to Cat with the Washington Post.
Q Hey, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I had two questions. Kind of following up on that, what role will major social media companies play in the task force and in the development of these recommendations?
And I also just wanted to ask you if you see any connection between the work the task force is doing and the work of the January 6th Committee on social media and extremism.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry. So, you know, as I noted, preventing and addressing all forms of GBV — gender-based violence — including online requires engagement and, really, partnership between the public and the private sectors. And, you know, many technology companies have expressed a commitment to improving user safety and addressing abuse on their platforms.
And so, we will be looking for opportunities to engage with industry experts and leaders who share that commitment to supporting survivors and preventing abuse, including by improving the safety and the design of their products and platforms.
And I hadn’t, quite frankly, thought about the connection to January 6th. This was really — has been pretty laser-focused on online harassment and abuse and the connection to gender-based violence.
MODERATOR: Thanks, [senior administration official].
Next, we’ll turn it over to Alexandra with Reuters.
Alexandra, I don’t know if — we can’t hear you.
Okay, in the meantime, we’ll turn it over to Ashley with Axios.
Q Hi, there. Thanks for having the call. You talked about ultimately developing best practices with civil society and the private sector, but will you — will the task force be making any policy recommendations for Congress with the federal agencies?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We do anticipate making policy recommendations, as well as recommendations on additional research on the role of, as I said, private sector and civil society and programs.
And again, there will be a couple of additional announcements tomorrow. And so, that sort of forecasts, because, honestly, we’ve already started this work. And this task force is really the next thing in the line of working on all facets of this — of this problem and the solutions to it. So, yes, I would say, in all of those categories.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question, we’ll turn it over to Brendan at Politico.
Q Yeah. Hi, guys. Thanks so much for doing the call. You know, I think particularly given, you know, it sounds like the involvement of the DOJ and the National Security Council and folks like that, I wanted to ask whether the White House has given any thought to privacy or, you know, like free speech concerns around this?
You know, I’m thinking specifically of sort of the backlash that occurred around DHS’s disinformation board, and I can imagine some of the same voices might raise concerns with this effort, you know, regarding the White House or the government’s attempt to sort of, like, control speech online that some people might see as obviously hate speech or harassment or threatening violence and others might not see that way.
Are you guys thinking about those issues at all? And is that something that has crossed the White House’s radar so far? And do you guys plan to sort of dig into those issues at all, as you — as you weigh a lot of these other questions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we are particularly focused on online activities that are illegal conduct, such as cyber stalking or non-consensual distribution of intimate images or targeted harassment, as well as, you know, the overlap with intimate partner and sexual violence online, and online abuse linked to the distribution of child sex abuse material and trafficking.
And these are obviously harmful and illegal acts that occur online. And there has been a strong bipartisan consensus that more has to be done to hold perpetrators and platforms accountable to prevent these harms.
We are very mindful of the of the First Amendment issues. But, you know, violent and threatening speech is not protected by the First Amendment. So, while we are going to carefully navigate those issues, we’re also going to remain laser-focused on the non-speech aspects. So, yes, that will be part of our work.
And I realized I actually forgot to mention — you raised the National Security Council again, and I did realize there was one other piece I wanted to respond to in Chris’s question, which is: Why is the National Security Council involved? For all the reasons we’ve already discussed. And also, I should just note that another thing we are doing is that the — the National Security Council and we launched a Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse at the Summit for Democracy back in December, and sort of officially asked for partners at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in March.
And so, the State Department is continuing to expand that global partnership because, obviously, this work is important in a number of different countries around the world. So, that partnership — the Global Partnership — brings together countries and international organizations and civil society and the private sector to understand technology-facilitated gender-based violence around the world and to prevent and address it.
MODERATOR: Thank you, [senior administration official].
And our last question, we’ll go to Tal at the SF Chronicle.
Q Hi, I have a quick procedural question and then an actual question. The procedural question is: Will you all be distributing a copy of the report you mentioned, tying misogyny to violence?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Our goal is to have a factsheet under a 5:00 a.m. embargo tonight. So we’ll make sure everyone on this call gets that.
Q Okay, great. Thanks. And then my question — you know, and I mean this with all due respect, but if this is a campaign promise, you know, we’re 18 months into the administration, I believe, you know, it’s — you’re announcing a task force that in six months will give recommendations that, of course, will then need to be enacted.
I’m just wondering, you know: What took so long to stand up the task force? And, you know, should we take away a sense of urgency from, you know, this coming together, kind of, over such a long time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I would say about that is that this is, you know, sort of a midpoint in the work on online harassment and abuse. And I think, you know, [senior administration official] laid out the Vice President’s long commitment to this.
You know, I’m sure you know the President’s long commitment to gender-based violence wherever it occurs. And, you know, between passing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and taking on military sexual assault and, you know, other issues that are related, this is just part of our overall work to combat gender-based violence wherever it occurs.
And, you know, what has — the way that this task force has developed — and I’m sort of quite proud of the fact that it’s, I think, a very thoughtful group of people who are involved — and the issues are sort of well-defined at this point is because it grows out of interagency work, which has been ongoing.
So, as I said, this is a public acknowledgement of the work that we are doing and, sort of, you know, the moment to say, “Okay, we’ve been doing all of this interagency work.” This brings it together, and that we’re asking for this report back within 180 days.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. And thanks, everyone, for joining.
Just a friendly reminder that this is under embargo until 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. We’ll be sure to share the factsheet, hopefully in the next few hours here. And please reach out with any questions.
5:25 P.M. EDT