Ex-disinformation committee leader has faced a wave of online abuse

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nina Jankowicz, like so many millennials, was thrilled to share a social media post announcing her new job on Twitter late last month when she was named executive director of a new disinformation council created by the Department of Homeland Security.

But instead of good wishes, Jankowicz’s tweet sparked a torrent of sexist profanity on social media and threatening emails filled with rape or death threats that continue to follow her even after she resigned from that new job on Wednesday. morning after the program’s disastrous deployment.

It’s a familiar scenario.

A wave of online harassment, harassment and abuse has driven dozens of women around the world out of positions of power. The speed and unchecked virulence of the attacks show another way social media can act as an accelerator to sow discord.

“This type of silence and terror is global, unfortunately, and unsurprisingly,” said Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor who studies online privacy and hate crimes. “It’s a playbook. And it’s downright scary.

In 2018, after winning an election that made her Vermont’s first black lawmaker, Kiah Morris said she was quitting her job. because of racist threats, including from a Twitter user who threatened to harass her at rallies.

Amy Acton, former Ohio health director, one of several women health officials across the United States who have been threatened online after recommending COVID-19 masking and stay-at-home orders, resigned weeks after protesters showed up at home she armed with sexist and anti-Semitic placards.

Heidi Allen, a British Member of Parliament, resigned in 2019, saying she was ‘exhausted’ by the ‘despicable’ online hate she received, which included a man who posted aerial images of his home with specific threats. He was eventually imprisoned for his messages.

A United Nations report released earlier this year who studied Finland confirmed what many of these women already suspected: female politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, are subjected to 10 times more abusive posts on Twitter, including hate speech sometimes suggesting that women commit suicide. Online abuse, the UN concludes in its report, prevents democracies from being equally representative.

For her part, Jankowicz said Wednesday that she would not be “silenced” by the online harassment and that it was not the final provocation that led to her resignation.

But it had a similar effect.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas decided on Tuesday to suspend the work of the Disinformation Governance Council after such a negative reception and growing concerns that it was becoming a distraction for the department’s other work on disinformation, according to two department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The board break led Jankowicz to resign Wednesday morning.

Admittedly, the failed board launch and subsequent struggle for the agency to directly answer questions about its purpose, funding or work made the new initiative controversial from the start. Republican critics and lawmakers have raised serious questions about how the council could infringe on Americans’ free speech and privacy rights. Others have expressed concern about Jankowicz’s previous statements about the provenance of a laptop computer believed to belong to Hunter Biden, the president’s eldest son.

Conservative pundits, Twitter users and TV show hosts waged a relentless campaign full of sexist attacks and misleading claims against Jankowicz. A Fox News personality questioned whether Jankowicz should have agreed to lead the board during her pregnancy. Far-right extremist called her ‘mentally ill’ and ‘evil…Jewish’ on his podcast; Jankowicz is not Jewish. Last week, several conservative news sites circulated a misleading claim that Jankowicz was seeking the power to directly edit Twitter users’ posts..

“I was trying to do important work to protect Americans from a real threat,” Jankowicz said.

But, instead, she spent time reporting a constant wave of threats against herself.

“It was awful. It was constant (direct messages), emails, threats on Twitter, threats on other places that I wasn’t looking at. It’s obviously very scary and really unpleasant.