The fingerprints of former Disinformation Governance Board Director Nina Jankowicz are all over a new report repeatedly cited by the White House when establishing a new online task force led by Vice President Kamala Harris.
The Biden campaign announced in 2020 it would convene such a task force, and on Thursday, it fulfilled that promise with the establishment of the White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse.
The “fact sheet” accompanying the announcement, along with statements by senior administration officials, pointed to a State Department-commissioned report that Jankowicz was interviewed as an expert for and that repeatedly cited her 2021 report “Malign Creativity: How Gender, Sex, and Lies Are Weaponized Against Women Online.” It also pointed to her 2022 book How to Be a Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment and How to Fight Back.
The themes outlined in the White House’s launch announcement are nearly identical to those in the new report and in Jankowicz’s cited writings.
The new report was titled “Technological Threats: How Online Harassment of Female Political Figures Undermines Democracy.”
It was released by Texas A&M University’s Program on Women, Peace, and Security, with the Bush School’s “client” listed as the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the State Department. The report listed seven “team members,” including one who personally thanked Jankowicz on LinkedIn last month. The report includes sections focused on defending Harris against online attacks.
Jankowicz has a history of labeling claims as disinformation that were later found to have credibility and giving credence to discredited claims. She cast doubt on the Hunter Biden laptop story, touted Christopher Steele as a disinformation expert, downplayed Iranian election meddling in the 2020 election, critiqued the promotion of the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis, pushed debunked claims of Trump-Russia collusion, and more.
The new report provided a “Thank You to Our Experts” section including Jankowicz that said: “Our team had the opportunity to interview several renowned researchers who work within this space and whose time and insight substantially impacted the direction of our research. … Our conversations with these experts contributed to our understanding of terminology, current environment, and policy approaches.”
The report added: “Nina Jankowicz emphasized the importance of understanding gendered disinformation, considering this phenomenon grants a holistic understanding of the online and offline impacts that female political figures experience.”
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The “List of Experts” noted Jankowicz was the author of How to Be a Woman Online. The book seems largely based on the “Malign Creativity” report that she co-authored and is repeatedly cited in the new report. The book laments the mistreatment of Harris online and asserts that “to be a woman online is an inherently dangerous act.”
The new report listed the “key topics discussed” with Jankowicz, which were “Use of ‘Online Harassment’, Impacts on Democracy and Women, Gendered Disinformation, Current International Framework Laws, and Applicability to Online Harassment.”
“During the 2020 presidential campaign, Kamala Harris was targeted by gendered disinformation campaigns concerning her sexual past in an attempt to discredit or humiliate her, a common objective for many perpetrators of online harassment,” the new report cited by the White House concluded. “Vice President Harris’s sexual past, like other female political figures, became a fundamental target for online abusers in their campaigns of social stigmatization. Rumors spread about women’s characters as ‘homewreckers’ who employ sex to achieve their career goals, despite circumstances demonstrating the opposite.”
The report added: “For Vice President Harris, this narrative that she uses sex to advance her career directly targets her perceived legitimacy to hold office.”
That section alone cited Jankowicz’s prior report five times.
Dr. Valerie Hudson, director of the Bush School’s Program on Women, Peace, and Security, was the student team’s supervising faculty member.
“About a dozen subject matter experts were interviewed for the report. Jankowicz is the author of a book entitled How to Be a Woman Online, which directly addresses the issue of online harassment of women,” Hudson told the Washington Examiner. “Since the capstone project’s main focus was the online harassment of female political figures, Jankowicz was identified as someone who would have relevant knowledge on the subject.”
Hudson added: “The only interaction with Jankowicz was one interview conducted by members of the capstone team in February or March of 2022.”
The memorandum signed by Biden establishing the task force said it will be co-chaired by the Gender Policy Council and the National Security Council and that its membership will include Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who had launched the Disinformation Governance Board and hired Jankowicz.
The disinformation board was temporarily put on hold following the controversy surrounding Jankowicz, who later resigned. Republican senators have pointed to whistleblower disclosures and internal documents from the board that they say show Mayorkas misled about the purpose and activities of the board.
The day before the task force launch, a senior administration official noted that the National Security Council would be co-chairing the task force, saying, “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. … We are absolutely focused on the role of platforms and social media more generally.”
The Bush School team presented its findings to the State Department through the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.
“We did not have any interaction with the White House at all. Our only point of contact was the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. We presented our research to them in April,” Hudson told the Washington Examiner. “We do know that the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues has been looking at this issue very closely, which is why they wanted our capstone team to perform some research on the topic.” Hudson said the State Department gave them a “heads up” several days before the White House announcement “that our report might be footnoted in a forthcoming announcement.”
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
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