The first lady repeated her call for safer online behavior at an annual National Parent Teacher Association meeting Tuesday

By Sean Neumann
March 11, 2020 03:57 PM
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In a speech on Tuesday, First Lady Melania Trump continued to call for an end to cyberbullying, which she described in stark terms.

Meanwhile her husband, President Donald Trump, continues to use his favorite social media platform to name-call and deride his political rivals.

In a rare sign of disagreement between the Trumps, the White House said in December that the president and first lady “communicate differently.” Mrs. Trump, 49, typically curates a conventional social media presence and only rarely does she respond to comments about herself.

By contrast the president is a habitual poster, regularly fighting with others or using his platform to mock politicians as well as celebrities, teenage activists and others. He is not shy about using aggressive language or deeply personal insults to respond to someone he feels has mistreated him or earned his disfavor.

In a Tuesday address at the annual meeting for the National Parent Teacher Association in Alexandria, Virginia, Mrs. Trump repeated her call for an end to online bullying, which she said “can have a negative and even deadly impact on our youth,” as she addressed about 300 teachers and administrators.

Anti-bullying is a major part of the first lady’s “Be Best” initiative focusing on child welfare.

“When used properly, the internet can be a tool for good. When not used properly, it can be destructive and dangerous,” she said Tuesday, hours after President Trump, 73, continued to name-call Democrats in his usual string of morning tweets.

Mrs. Trump pointed to Channing Smith, a 16-year-old from Manchester, Tennessee, as an example of the deadly impact of cyberbullying. Smith killed himself “because of the thoughtless and cruel actions committed online by his peers,” she told the audience.

“These devastating, and life-changing tragedies are a heavy reminder of the consequences of irresponsible online behavior,” Mrs. Trump said. “Our children are growing up in a world where so much of their day-to-day interaction takes place online. As parents, adults, educators, and community leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure our children are being taught the importance of positive ways to interact with each other and prepare them for attacks and negativity they could receive in this new digital age.”

First Lady Melania Trump speaking at the International Women of Courage awards on March 4.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty
From left: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty

President Trump has habitually used Twitter to attack those he views as political opponents, including mocking teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg on multiple occasions last year.

Trump told the then-16-year-old Thunberg in December to “chill” and “work on her anger management problem” in a fit of pique after the Swedish teen was named TIME’s Person of the Year.

“So ridiculous,” he wrote in response to TIME’s announcement.

In December, one day after the president jabbed at Thunberg, Mrs. Trump tweeted in response to Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan, who made a reference to the Trumps’ 13-year-old son Barron during President Trump’s impeachment investigation.

“A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics,” Mrs. Trump wrote. “Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”

She did not publicly address her husband’s attacks on Thunberg.

“It is no secret that the President and First Lady often communicate differently — as most married couples do,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said then, when asked for comment.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Trump called on role models like parents and teachers to lead the charge against online bullying.

“Parents and teachers are on the frontlines of this battle,” Mrs. Trump told the teachers in attendance at the PTA meeting. “You see firsthand the uplifting effects positive online experiences have on children. You also witness how destructive internet use can tear down students’ self-esteem.”

“With your help,” she said, “we can break down the harmful barriers that internet abuse poses to our children and society.”