Less than a week before Donald Trump was elected president in last November, his wife Melania declared before a Pennsylvania crowd that one of her core projects as First Lady would be combating the scourge of cyberbullying.
“We must find better ways to honor and support the basic goodness of our children, especially in social media,” she said, to raucous applause. “It will be one of the main focuses of my work if I’m privileged enough to become your First Lady.”
But eight months later, cyberbullying experts say she has virtually nothing to show for it — and few believe she will be able to make good on her promise.
As the Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reported on Friday, anti-bullying advocates say they have yet to be contacted by the Trump administration, much less hear of any cohesive plan to tackle the issue.
“She nor anyone at the White House has contacted us. You’re the 50th person to ask,” Justin Patchin, who is the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, told the Globe. “We know everyone in the field. And we don’t know anyone she’s reached out to.”
Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, echoed Patchin’s frustration this week in an interview with Mic.
“After Melania Trump announced that she wanted to address cyberbullying, we have consistently said we’d be willing to work with her,” Balkam said. “But I’m not sure if anyone has publicly heard from her or her office.”
Melania’s spokesman has said that the First Lady “look[s] forward to announcing something” on the subject “in the coming weeks.” But even if the First Lady does finally take action, advocates who work to limit online vitriol say her husband’s notoriously mean-spirited use of social media will make it difficult — if not impossible — for her to tackle the sprawling issue.
“I wish Melania would really take this on. There’s no way that she can. She can’t. It won’t work. There’s no credibility.”
“I wish Melania would really take this on. There’s no way that she can,” Parry Aftab, founder of WiredSafety, told the Globe. “She can’t. It won’t work. There’s no credibility.”
A White House-sponsored cyberbullying initiative, they say, would likely struggle to overcome the president’s long history of volatile online behavior. The New York Times has tracked 337 people, places, and things Trump has insulted since declaring his candidacy in 2015, and he has shown no signs of slowing down since taking office — even as his aides reportedly urge him to cut back his use of social media. Susan Swearer, who sits on an advisory board for the anti-bullying group Born this Way Foundation, told the Globe that she believes Trump’s tweets “meet the definition of bullying.”
Earlier this month, the former reality television star used Twitter to call MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski “low-IQ” and “dumb as a rock,” and declared her co-host Joe Scarborough “psycho” and “crazy.” And just last weekend, the president tweeted a gif of himself beating an individual whose face was changed to resemble a CNN logo.
But when Melania was asked to comment on Trump’s recent CNN tweet — which Committee to Protect Journalists said “undermines the media in the US and emboldens autocratic leaders around the world”—her office declined to condemn it.
“As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” her spokeswoman told CNN.
Larry Magid, CEO of ConnectSafely, said any action on the issue would likely require Melania to reverse course and criticize her husband’s behavior.
“This comment was worse than silence,” Magid told Mic. “If Melania considers herself a spokesperson for cyberbullying, the first thing she has to do is retract that statement.”