Kamala Harris’ Online Harassment Task Force Is a Bad Idea
The White House created a new task force on Thursday to combat online harassment, abuse, and sexual violence. The initiative was unveiled by Vice President Kamala Harris, who gave little indication that she understands the difference between preventing violence and deterring harassment, the latter of which is outside the government’s purview.
“For far too many people, the internet is a place of fear,” said Harris. “This affects all of us if it affects any one of us.”
Online harassment is indeed a frustrating and pervasive problem; contrary to the White House’s framing that harassers primarily target women and minorities, people of all backgrounds contend with it if they spend any significant time online. A Pew survey from 2017 found that 44 percent of men said they had experienced online harassment, compared with 37 percent of women.
“It’s true that women who have been targets of online abuse were more than twice as likely as men to describe their last such experience as extremely or very upsetting (35 percent vs. 16 percent),” wrote Cathy Young for Reason back in 2017. “But, interestingly, there was no gender gap in actual negative effects of online harassment, be it mental stress, problems with friends and family, romantic problems, reputational damage, or trouble at work.”
In her remarks, however, Harris focused on the harm to specific groups.
“One in three women under the age of 35 report being sexually harassed online,” she said. “Over half of the LGBTQ people in our country are survivors of severe harassment. Nearly one in four Asian Americans report being called an offensive name, usually motivated by racism. No one should have to endure abuse 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
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