Hide Techdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

White House Launches Yet Another Task Force To Try To Curb Online Abuse; But So Far It Seems Extremely One-Sided

from the you-can't-curb-abuse-by-ignoring-legitimate-concerns dept

Apparently missing the entire controversy the White House faced just a few weeks ago regarding Homeland Security’s poorly explained Disinformation Governance Board (which has since been put on hold), the White House is trying yet again, with its new White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse. At least this time, they didn’t launch it without any details at all. This time, there’s an official document explaining the taskforce, and the announcement came complete with a speech from VP Kamala Harris and a meeting with a strikingly one-sided group of “experts.”

So, once again, as we said with the previous disinformation board, if the goal is really to better understand the flow of information online, and how to counter it without running afoul of the 1st Amendment, that could be interesting. Harassment and abuse is a real issue on the internet. And, there are many lessons to be learned, including some really unique and creative approaches to dealing with the challenges related to such speech. Unfortunately, there are already many reasons to be concerned about this new task force — mainly in that many of the participants come from the world that believes in questionable approaches to dealing with this — such as by removing Section 230 and making companies somehow “liable” for speech, even when it’s legal.

That’s not an approach that is (1) constitutional or (2) workable. We’ve seen such systems get regularly abused to silence perfectly legitimate speech. And, of course, part of this is because while abuse and harassment are very real, there is no clear definition of what constitutes abusive speech. Hell, one of the “experts” at last week’s panel once openly harassed a supporter of Section 230 for merely reporting, neutrally, on a Supreme Court decision, suggesting that people should set up fake profiles on sites and send people to rape the supporter.

It is difficult to take the White House seriously in trying to “stop” online harassment when it would platform a harasser like that.

There are also other concerns about the task force. An unnamed White House official brushed off free speech concerns that were raised by a Washington Post reporter:

“We are very mindful of the First Amendment issues,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the White House’s plans. “But banning threatening speech is not protected by the First Amendment. So while we are going to carefully navigate those issues, we are also going to remain laser-focused on the non-speech aspects.”

There’s some awkward wording here. Even though this official says that “banning threatening speech is not protected” it sounds like they mean “threatening speech is not protected by the 1st Amendment, and therefore okay to ban.” But… that’s just fundamentally wrong in nearly all cases. There is a very, very, very narrow sliver of threatening speech — that focused on inciting imminent lawless action — that is not protected, but almost none of the actual abuse and harassment that occurs online goes anywhere near that level.

There are some good things a task force like this could obviously do — some of which appears to be part of its mission. Things like the following seem great:

increasing access to survivor-centered services, information, and support for victims, and increasing training and technical assistance for Federal, State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments as well as for global organizations and entities in the fields of criminal justice, health and mental health services, education, and victim services;

That seems like a useful thing. However, where it gets scary is when it starts dipping into “examining existing Federal laws, regulations, and policies.”

And, look, at this very moment, there’s a half decent chance that in 30 months we’ll have a President DeSantis in office. And let’s remember that, in Florida, DeSantis has put in place programs to effectively block teachers from teaching about race or gender issues out of fear that they could get sued. He’s also directly punished companies like Walt Disney, falsely claiming that it’s a “woke” corporation. How do you think a President DeSantis will make use of a task force that suggests new laws and regulations to stop “harassment” and “abuse?”

This is not difficult to play out, but for whatever reason, supporters of these kinds of things seem to think that their friends will always be in power. That’s not how it works.

Again, there could be something useful in bringing together experts in harassment, along with various organizations that have experimented with ways of countering harassment, not through legal enforcement, but with design choices and tools that minimize such things. Invite company CEOs like Blockparty’s Tracy Chou who has thought deeply about how to use technology to fight harassment.

Instead, we always end up with the same people, who seem to think that the law is the only way to fight harassment, even as it’s protected by the 1st Amendment.

And, of course, just as with the Disinformation Governance Board, Republicans are already going after this effort, once again claiming that this is just a “ministry of truth” designed to target conservative speech. Even if that’s not true, just the fact that they believe it is gives them even more justification the next time they’re in power to use the very same tools and setup to actually stifle speech they dislike.

You would think that after four years of a Trump administration abusing the levers of power that once the Democrats regained power they would, maybe, put in place more safeguards, rather than putting more weapons in place for Republicans to use next time they’re in power. But, apparently, they can’t think even that far ahead, and that should disqualify them from being taken seriously.

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “White House Launches Yet Another Task Force To Try To Curb Online Abuse; But So Far It Seems Extremely One-Sided”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
64 Comments

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

JBDragon (profile) says:

You're no better!!!

So you are throwing out disinformation also about the Law Desantis signed about teachers!!!

It really stops NOTHING. Yet you keep throwing out these lies. Personally, I don;t think teachers should talk about sex of any time and keep their personal lives out of kids lives. O don’t care if their’re gay or straight. Don’t need to push your agenda on Kindagaren to 3rd graders. It should be even older than that.
It still doesn’t stop a teacher from talking for a kid one on one about this matters. Just not pushing their garbage on the whole class at once.

Hey, try reading the law instead of the Democrat talking points which are just another complete LIE.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

[I] don’t care if their’re gay or straight.

I bet you’d care more about a female teacher talking about her wife instead of her husband⁠⁠—and that’s without mentioning sex in any way.

But hey, if you really don’t want even straight teachers talking about sex and gender and all that shit, I have the perfect letter you can send to the appropriate parties.

JMT (profile) says:

Re:

So you are throwing out disinformation also about the Law Desantis signed about teachers!!!

It really stops NOTHING.

Then why is it needed if it apparently does nothing? Do you think we’re that stupid?

Hey, try reading the law instead of the Democrat talking points which are just another complete LIE.

Hey, try your gaslighting elsewhere, it won’t fly here.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

You would think that after four years of a Trump administration abusing the levers of power that once the Democrats regained power they would, maybe, put in place more safeguards, rather than putting more weapons in place for Republicans to use next time they’re in power. But, apparently, they can’t think even that far ahead, and that should disqualify them from being taken seriously.

What’s sad is that Republicans can think, have thought, and will keep thinking that far ahead. They’re on the cusp of finally getting rid of (or severely gutting) Roe v. Wade after fifty years. Anyone who thinks the GOP isn’t already thinking about how to do everything from gutting queer rights to eliminating American democracy itself needs a reality check.

The vast majority of Democrats are weak-willed cowards who love to talk about progress but are ultimately conservatives who seek to defend the status quote by doing nothing. The vast majority of Republicans are, sad to say, advocates for Christianist fascism⁠—and if you need proof, look no further than the Texas GOP platform.

jojo_36 (profile) says:

Re:

The vast majority of Democrats are weak-willed cowards who love to talk about progress but are ultimately conservatives who seek to defend the status quote by doing nothing.

I disagree. I don’t think that Democrats are weak-willed, I’ve been part of a family of Democrats and they’re anything but “weak-willed.” but I do see that my party does have its flaws. For one, I think there’s a problem of unity. Democrats has a wide coalition of activists, liberals, centrists, environmentalists, immigrants, minorities, Refugees from the Republican Party, DINOsaurs, etc. As diverse as it is, that’s also the weakness of the Democratic Party. Everyone has a such a passionate, but different vision of what the country should look like that it makes unity a lot more incoherent. Republicans walk in goose step, but they use that energy to regress and oppress; whilst Democrats have the potential to do good, but strives so hard to appease everyone in their base, they appease no one. So in other words, Republicans organize chaos while Democrats organize chaotically.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think that Democrats are weak-willed

All of them? No. But a majority of the Democrats in power have a vested interest in keeping that power. To do that, they try to keep their big donors happy. You don’t keep rich people happy by fighting tooth and nail to tax them at rates we haven’t seen in decades.

The most powerful Democrats will talk about progress but ultimately offer watered-down bills and half-measures they refer to as “progress”. They refuse to attack Republicans for being the fascists they are because they still hold out some hope of “bipartisanship”. (Look at how Joe Biden talks about “Ultra MAGA” as if that isn’t what the GOP has become.) The most powerful Democrats don’t care if the country devolves into Christianist fascism so long as said Democrats get elected to another term in office.

When I say “Democrats are weak-willed”, I say that because they generally refuse to fight for Americans in the same way that the GOP fights for “real Americans” (read: straight white cisgender Christian men). I mean, Obama and the Democrats had complete control of Congress for basically the first quarter of his time in office, and they didn’t even punish the banks/bankers that caused the 2008 financial meltdown. I refuse to vote for the GOP, but what the fuck is the point of voting Democrat for any reason other than keeping Republicans out of public office if the Democrats aren’t going to do a goddamn thing with their power?

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:

You don’t keep rich people happy by fighting tooth and nail to tax them at rates we haven’t seen in decades.

Do you mean fair rates? We have that problem here as well. Fortunately, one beneficial tax law passed here means that businesses will finally be paying their fair share from next April, over twelve years after I first suggested the law that recently passed in the immediate aftermath of Vodafone dodging £6 billion pounds in tax revenue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

When I say “Democrats are weak-willed”, I say that because they generally refuse to fight for Americans in the same way that the GOP fights for “real Americans” (read: straight white cisgender Christian men).

You forgot the scare quotes around word “Christian”. Just saying.

Aaron Walkhouse says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Correction:

Someone can CALL HIMSELF a Christian and still be a horrible person at the same time.

Of them, Jesus said “by their fruits shall ye know them” and [Luke 17:1-2] “It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

There are actually REAL Christians scattered around this world, and we DO KNOW how to identify them as well as the many antichrists who try to claim Christianity; directly breaking the Commandment against taking the Lord’s name in vain. ; ]

Aaron Walkhouse says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Antichrists:

I’m not using the Hollywood/apocalyptic definition of the word. We have understood it to mean false Christians since the first century A.D:

1 John 2:18-21 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (19) They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (20) But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. (21) I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

Fake Christians are antichrists [and there are many], and The Antichrist will be one of those; but elevated to global prominance as the populist peace negotiator during the upcoming war in the Middle East [triggered by the Great Earthquake and King Gog’s attack on Israel.]

Yes, this is real. Perhaps you don’t need that earthquake and Putin’s War for Oil [and Israel’s offshore gasfields] to wake you up. ; ]

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6

Fake Christians are antichrists

How do you determine who is a “fake” Christian? Who is the official arbiter of that designation, if not God/Jesus Christ? What gives them the authority to declare someone a “fake” Christian⁠—or declare a given sect of Christianity to be “fake” Christians⁠—and have that label mean anything beyond being a personal opinion?

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Oh so funny!

You see, people like Aaron Walkhouse are so out of reality it’s beyond laughable.
On the benefit of doubt that there is anything actually true in the three various epics of Abraham…

The idea of hell as a place of physical suffering is a post Middle Ages response to Renaissance mindset.
Nothing on the original texts says anything about physical suffering.
There’s much in both the Torahic and Christian Era that speaks of spiritual suffering (as in not being in the grace of god). That idea is less directly found in Islam as well.

But you somehow put stock in some sort of win. You may personally win, but never in reality.
The thing with some glorious holy war is when fighting for spiritual salvation, you opposition doesn’t care!
In the most literal interpretation of both JIC texts and source documents from preceding religious faiths: we “suffer” in eternal sin and carnal existence. Sounds fun.
In the most theological interpretation: we “suffer” eternal “darkness” by never seeing the “light” of god. Which changes nothing since we’re not in the “light” in the first place.

Which beings me to my point here:
You three religious branches of faith are selfish! None of this is for the benefit of others. Only to advance the purity of your own spirit.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4

I don’t care if you follow the teachings of Jesus Christ or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (blessed be his noodly appendage). Unless you want to take the Lord’s name in vain by claiming you’re either Jesus Christ or God (or that you speak for one or both of them), you’re not qualified to determine who is a “real Christian”.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6

You want to judge who is and isn’t a real Christian? Let’s put that to the test with One Simple Question:

Which specific sect of Christianity follows the only true and correct teachings of Christ, such that all other sects of Christianity are “not true Christians”?

I’m sure your answer won’t be controversial at all~.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:10

Even non-religious Unitarian Universalists are better at following the teachings of Christ than the majority of “Christians” living in the Bible Belt

Saying “this version is better than that version because [x]” is irrelevant. You need to cite objective fact, not subjective opinion.

How do you objectively know that the sect you claim to be the only “true” version of Christianity is exactly what you claim it is, such that it is the only version of Christianity accepted and acknowledged by God and Jesus Christ?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:12

now you turn to argument by pig-headedness

You want to argue that a specific sect of Christianity is the only “true” sect/version of Christianity and all others are “fake”. All I want from you is empirical evidence of that claim. Your opinion isn’t empirical evidence and is therefore irrelevant.

Cite some evidence to back up your claim or admit that you aren’t the arbiter of who is or isn’t a “real”/“true” Christian.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:16

You god people can be quite funny.

If the point was there are “good” Christians I’ll go along with that. Setians are some of the better natural disaster donators too. Plenty of Islamic and Hindu charities that actually spend money on the cause and not the faith.
Yes, you can find one good one. Maybe that’s why “god” hasn’t sent a volcanic eruption to wipe you all out S&G style yet?!

Aaron Walkhouse says:

Re: Re: Re:10 There is one remaining movement.

A prophet showed up in the U.S. around the time of WWII. The signs and miracles around his ministry gave rise to the great healing revival which became big news at the time.

Inevitably, once the masses were paying attention, the Lord made that prophet start preaching The Word and restoring all the knowledge that was lost over the past 2000 years.

The antichrists bolted, leaving the core group that “got it”; and those folks still exist today as a loose affiliation of independent churches which are exactly identical to the tiny churches which followed the Apostle Paul in the first century.

Paul’s churches persisted, unchanging, until the antichrists wiped them out a few centuries later. Likewise, today’s churches see no reason to become rich or politically powerful.

Needless to say, no organized religion can match the genuine authority and humility of such people. ; ]

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re:

The problem is we only can choose Democrats that want to dismantle us from being us.
Globalism is a key factor in Dem politics.

On top of that they now refuse to compromise on anything. Things the party stood for in the 2000s and teens got tossed because Republicans agreed with them. Like border security. Or pulling out of international nation building.
I remember how Obama offered HOPE that we
would end the wars in the Middle East.
Withdraw from that part of the world.
How he would secure our borders.
Reform policing.
Close foreign military bases.
Open up relations with Cuba
Put states and state’s rights first
Tax the richest companies properly
Close tax loopholes.

Where’d all that good stuff go.
Instead they ignore the southern border, try to ban rifles which account for less than 1% of gun deaths, spend indefinitely without cutting, and threaten nuclear war!
Tax non-spendable money, declare globalism. And burn the economy.

“Progressives” have taken over the party. They don’t care about the us and me. The you. They only care about themselves.
Even the NYT has started pointing out the Dem leadership is a closed society out of touch with reality.

Maybe we’ll get another like Obama some day; an Obama who isn’t so easily pulled in and puppetted by the elites.

We can hope.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

*Free speech should be free speech wherever it is.*

Unless it’s about gay and trans people. Then the governments of Texas and Florida will shut you down. They clearly never got Jesus’ messages about “live and let live” and “love your neighbor like you love yourself”. And they have the cheek to call themselves Christians! *SMFH*

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Fun fact: Most Christians in the Roman Empire were begging to be thrown to the lions.

Because it happened so infrequently.

This became a minor problems because the Christians, at least until Constantine, were becoming a minor nuisance for waning to be “martyred” for Jesus.

Not to say that actual persecution didn’t happen, but it happened far, far less than you thought.

What you want is to harass people into martyring you, like in the past.

Now THAT is disgusting.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Memories that make goldfish look downright brilliant

Hell, one of the “experts” at last week’s panel once openly harassed a supporter of Section 230 for merely reporting, neutrally, on a Supreme Court decision, suggesting that people should set up fake profiles on sites and send people to rape the supporter.

And that is someone they thought had valuable insights and was worthy of hearing from on online harassment. That’s like having a group to address domestic violence and inviting a convicted spousal abuser to give their thoughts on the subject.

On a more general note damn but some people have short memories and little to no ability to think about the long term consequences for their action.

Before even seriously considering something like this the first question those involved should have asked themselves is ‘would we be fine with the other party doing this and/or having full power to use this?’, and I’d hope that the answer to that would be a resounding ‘Oh hell no!’ because as bad as this is now just wait until the party of ‘fake news’ and ‘pro-terrorism and vaccine and holocaust denial’ gets their hands on it.

migi (profile) says:

There is a very, very, very narrow sliver of threatening speech — that focused on inciting imminent lawless action — that is not protected

I’m not a lawyer but I’m pretty sure this is wrong. You’re discussing threats which means you need to look at the true threat standard, not the incitement standard. Both true threats and incitement are legally unprotected, IIRC there are 2 other categories of speech which are unprotected.
Popehat addressed them recently in the context of the abhorrent RINO ad:
https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/1538938290476158976

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Wikipedia’s actually famed as being more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica, possibly due to the self-correcting effects of the community and the site’s bots. Therefore, if Wikipedia says there’s ten categories of something and Encyclopedia Britannica says there’s seven, I’m going to believe it’s ten.

Naughty Autie says:

Hell, one of the “experts” at last week’s panel once openly harassed a supporter of Section 230 for merely reporting, neutrally, on a Supreme Court decision, suggesting that people should set up fake profiles on sites and send people to rape the supporter.

Clearly somebody who shouldn’t be working in the tech industry. Farmers don’t employ foxes to guard their chicken sheds for very good reason.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...