Her message was a part of a broader initiative that she launched three months ago called “Be Best,” which is focused on improving children’s well-being, including “the safe and responsible use of social media.”
Trump made no mention of the president during her brief remarks at the start of the conference, though the first lady’s office is keenly aware that her husband’s critics have called her focus on cyberbullying ironic.
After the first lady spoke, she listened to a panel titled “Perspectives From Social Media Industry: Existing Efforts to Support Youth.” One of the speakers was Lauren Culbertson, Twitter’s public policy manager.
“We have strong rules against abusive behavior, and we’ve leveraged technology to help us enforce those rules,” Culbertson said during the session.
Trump’s use of Twitter to target his real and perceived enemies is well known. Only last week he prompted an uproar by referring to former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman as “that dog” — a term many found to be racist and misogynistic.
The first lady’s audience Monday included representatives of social media companies, federal agencies, educational organizations, youth programs and law enforcement. She thanked them for their efforts to prevent cyberbullying and urged them to listen to children’s views on the issue.
“Let’s face it,” Trump said. “Most children are more aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media than some adults, but we still need to do all we can to provide them with information and tools for successful and safe online habits.”
Asked about the juxtaposition of the first lady’s remarks and the president’s fresh round of aggressive tweets on Monday, Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, said she is “aware of the criticism, but it will not deter her from doing what she feels is right.”
“The president is proud of her commitment to children and encourages her in all that she does,” Grisham added in a statement.
The first lady’s broader “Be Best” initiative has been slow to take shape. A week after announcing it in a Rose Garden ceremony, Trump underwent kidney surgery for what the White House described as a “benign condition.” She remained out of public sight for weeks.
In late July, Trump’s policy director, Reagan Hedlund, a former Hill staffer and National Security Council executive assistant tasked with leading the first lady’s initiatives, left her job on what was already a small staff.
Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University, said recently that “Be Best” so far lacks the vision and presence of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign or Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. “Once it was given a name, there was something there, but what has it developed into?” Jellison asked. “It seems to be ephemeral at the moment.”
Grisham has pushed back on that notion and argues that the “Be Best” initiative is already a “success,” and she has said that the first lady has a “big announcement” planned for September.
Still, the first lady’s program has also suffered both from her perceived missteps and President Trump’s whiplash-inducing domination of the news cycle, which can make it difficult for her efforts to register.
En route to a visit to the Mexican border where immigrant families were being separated under her husband’s “zero tolerance” policies, Trump stepped on her message by wearing a jacket emblazoned with the phrase “I really don’t care, do u?”
Monday, her remarks were quickly overtaken by her husband’s tweets.
Emily Heil contributed to this report.