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"This time we understand the patterns, and this time we have the organisational infrastructure to push back," said Shaunna Thomas, executive director of the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, which released a 32-page guide for media along with a coalition of groups including Color of Change PAC, Planned Parenthood Votes and Women's March.

Unfair criticism

The groups say intense scrutiny of a vice presidential nominee is to be expected, but women are often unfairly criticised as overly emotional, weak or unqualified, or for their appearance or demeanor in a way that men are not. The attacks, which include false smears and threats of violence online, not only hurt campaigns but also dissuade women from seeking office.

Christine Todd Whitman, a former New Jersey governor and Republican, said Biden's running mate will be at the centre of an "ugly" social media campaign from online bullies.

Trump targets Harris: US president calls Biden running mate 'liar'
Trump targets Harris: US president calls Biden running mate 'liar'

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Harris, who was born in Oakland, California, has been the victim of online falsehoods for more than a year that say she is not eligible to become president because her parents were not born in the US. More recently, Facebook users added a new twist to the misinformation: that since Harris is not eligible to be president, if Biden did not finish his term, the presidency would automatically default to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.

But mere minutes after Harris was announced as Biden's running mate, pro-Trump social media personalities and conservative news outlets claimed Harris called Biden a racist during a televised Democratic debate last year. In reality, she said, "I do not believe you're a racist," before criticising his past opposition to policies around school desegregation.

About the Author

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based social and political commentator.