At a meeting with tech leaders Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump talked about cyberbullying, an issue she pledged to tackle head-on both before and after her husband's election. Trump acknowledged that she's faced pushback from critics for picking cyberbullying as her signature policy issue, but said she'd nevertheless continue "doing what I know is right."
“I am well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic,” the first lady said. “I have been criticized 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 with one goal: helping children and our next generation.”
According to a 2016 report from the Cyberbullying Research Center, more than one third of all 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States say they've been cyberbullied at some point in their lives, while around 11 percent said that they themselves had engaged in cyberbullying. That same study found a significant gender gap with regard to cyberbullying: 40 percent of girls said they'd been cyberbullied, compared with only 28 percent of boys. In a separate Pew Research study from 2011, 90 percent of teens who said they witnessed cyberbullying occurring also said that they didn't do anything to stop it.
During the presidential campaign, Trump said that fighting cyberbullying would be her priority if her husband won the election. She doubled down on this pledge again after Donald Trump won the election, addressing cyberbullying at a United Nations luncheon in September and saying that adults need to lead "by our own example," because "as adults we are not merely responsible — we are accountable."
Many people have criticized her for this, arguing that somebody who campaigns for and supports Donald Trump is not a good messenger for an anti-cyberbullying campaign. Donald, of course, has spent years insulting people on Twitter who are less powerful than him, behavior that's arguably the textbook definition of cyberbullying. When asked by CNN in October if Trump feels the need to reconcile her support for Donald with her opposition to cyberbullying, the first lady's communications director said "no."
It's worth noting that Trump didn't actually mention her husband's social media use during her speech. However, Family Online Safety Institute CEO Balkham told the Associated Press that she did bring it up during the closed-door meeting with executives.
“The first lady addressed the issue that was on everyone’s mind, which is the president’s own social media use,” Balkham said. “She addressed it and said I’m going to do this anyway.” He added that there was no further discussion on the topic.
Officials from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Snap and other attended the one-hour meeting with Melania on Tuesday. Balkham said that Melania stressed the importance of keeping parents informed about their childrens' online activity.
“She really wanted to know how we can best educate parents so that they can use the tools that companies provide to keep kids safe online,” Balkham said. “She is most concerned about anonymity online and thinks that it’s a disinhibitor to the ways in which people behave.”
Tuesday's meeting was the first publicly-announced forum the first lady has held on the matter, although according to Vanity Fair, reporters were asked to leave after her opening remarks. No further details about Trump's efforts have been released; Bustle has reached out to the White House for more information about her plan to fight cyberbullying.
“I believe together we can make a real difference in encouraging positive behaviors on social media," Trump said on Thursday. She added that parents should find ways to make their children "responsible digital citizens."