School Climate & Safety

Melania Trump Hosts Tech Companies for Cyberbullying Roundtable Discussion

By Sarah Schwartz — March 20, 2018 2 min read
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First Lady Melania Trump met with tech executives from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Snap for a roundtable discussion on cyberbullying today.

The meeting marks her first major event concerning policy around the issue, after announcing during the 2016 presidential campaign that she would make cyberbullying her main focus as first lady if her husband were elected.

Her choice has faced scrutiny by some, who note the contrast between her pledge to address hurtful language online and President Trump’s frequent personal Twitter attacks directed toward political opponents and others he disagrees with.

“I’m well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic,” said the first lady, at the roundtable. “I have been criticized by many for my commitment to tackling this issue, and I know that will continue. But it will not stop me from doing what I know is right. I am here for one goal: Helping children in our next generation.”

Trump noted that all of the assembled companies had been working to address cyberbullying on their platforms, and said that she convened the group to understand “what you have learned, what has been accomplished, and what progress still needs to be made.”

Industry, along with law enforcement, government, parents, and kids all have a role to play in creating a “culture of responsibility” on the internet, said Stephen Balkam, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute, at the roundtable.

In introductory remarks, the tech representatives assembled gave examples of steps their companies had taken in attempts to make their platforms safer for young users. Lee Dunn of Google described their Be Internet Awesome curriculum, which teaches security best practices and ethical behavior.

Twitter aims to create a safe environment for teenage users on its platform, said Carlos Monje, the director of public policy and philanthropy at the company.

“Young people do come to Twitter to find community, to explore their identities, to advocate for change,” he said. “We’ve seen some pretty inspirational things, and we can learn a lot from them.”

But recently, Twitter has faced intense criticism when users on its platform harassed teenage survivors of the Parkland school shooting, spreading false conspiracy theories that student activists were paid “crisis actors.” The president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., was among those who liked several tweets promoting this disinformation.

Though most K-12 students probably won’t experience the kind of targeted attacks that the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas went through, many will face online harassment. According to federal data, 6.9 percent of students aged 12-18 say they have been bullied online.

Research demonstrates that cyberbullying and in-person harassment are connected. Experts suggest that to combat bullying—whether on the internet or in the schoolyard—schools should set clear expectations, support students’ social and emotional growth, and make sure that students understand the policies for reporting problems.

Photo: First lady Melania Trump speaks with Snap Director of Public Policy Jennifer Park Stout, center, and Twitter Director of Public Policy Carlos Monje, right, as she arrives for a roundtable discussion on cyberbullying, in the State Dining Room of the White House, on March 20. --Evan Vucci/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.