First lady Melania Trump plans to convene tech giants including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snap next week to discuss ways to combat online harassment and promote Internet safety, according to four people familiar with her efforts.
The meeting at the White House, slated for March 20, marks the first major policy push in the first lady’s long-ago announced campaign to combat cyberbullying. At the gathering, Trump plans to ask policy executives from tech companies to detail how they’ve sought to address digital ills plaguing Web users, such as the rise of online trolls and the spread of malicious content, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss her efforts on the record.
But the people said they don’t expect the first lady to unveil any policy proposals to combat cyberbullying — a term her team has sought to avoid, instead opting to focus on the need for kindness online.
Asked about the upcoming event, a spokeswoman for Trump said in a statement that the first lady had "simply asked for a meeting to discuss one of the many things that impacts children." The spokeswoman declined to provide additional details.
In recent months, companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have faced criticism for allowing the spread of hate, harassment, conspiracy theories and other toxic content on their platforms. After the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., for example, videos attacking the victims proliferated wildly on YouTube, aided by algorithms that surface similar videos on a loop.
Others fault President Trump for contributing to the lack of civility online, particularly through his tweets attacking opponents. Some of his most popular tweets in 2017 — garnering hundreds of thousands of replies, likes or retweets among his roughly 49 million followers — involved rhetorical broadsides aimed at North Korea and CNN.
For her part, Melania Trump first pledged to highlight and fight cyberbullying in November 2016, days before her husband won the White House. At the time, she lamented the fact that “our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and to teenagers.”
Following the inauguration, however, the first lady addressed cyberbullying only in a few public settings. That includes a high-profile address at the United Nations in September 2017, where she emphasized the need to “teach each child the values of empathy and communication that are at the core of kindness, mindfulness, integrity and leadership, which can only be taught by example.”
More recently, Trump appeared to be telegraphing a policy push to come: She hired new aides, including a director of policy, in January. The first lady publicly returned to the issue of cyberbullying last month in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
In February, student Lauren Hogg tweeted Melania Trump to express frustration that Trump's stepson, Donald Trump Jr., had liked tweets suggesting that survivors of the attack had been coached to speak to media and cover for the FBI. Days later, during her speech praising the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Trump spoke about the need for more civility online and the importance of “positive habits with social media and technology.”
For its part, Silicon Valley has struggled to combat abuse and harassment online. In a study from the Pew Research Center last year, for example, 41 percent of Americans said they had personally experienced some form of harassment on the Web — for myriad reasons including their gender, ethnicity or physical appearance.
Along with representatives from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Snap and Twitter, at the first lady's meeting will be top aides from Microsoft and the Internet Association, a lobbying organization for Silicon Valley, as well as consumer groups, the people said. Each of these companies declined to comment or did not respond to emails seeking comment Tuesday.