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Can FLOTUS Address Online Hate Without Using the C-Word?


FLOTUS will be meeting with tech giants to discuss ways to combat online harassment and promote Internet safety. According to the initial story which ran in The Washington Post, First Lady Melania Trump will avoid using the C-word during this meeting and will instead focus on kindness online.

I’m a victim and survivor of the C-word, it happened to me before the term was even coined. In 2003 an online smear campaign nearly destroyed me, I can personally relate to those who have ended up as headlines since 2010: Tyler Clementi, Amanda Todd, Rebecca Sedwick, Audrie Potts, Rosaila Avila, Kenda Hoff, Ashawnta Davis and many more who were victims of the newest term, bullycide.

The difference between them and myself—besides about 20+ years—is that I knew things would get better. These young people didn't have the maturity to know that online hate, the C-word—is temporary. Emotional scarring lasts a lot longer, and that is where we need the help of friends and family.

It starts at home

Maybe FLOTUS doesn't want to talk about the C-word because it hits too close to home.

When people ask me about the online social behavior of POTUS, I don't want to talk about it either, so I have to agree with FLOTUS there. In my mind, not discussing it is not feeding it. It was Sara Haines, who last week on The View, made this exact point. People need to stop talking about the C-word of his behavior.

But what is concerning is that people are condoning his behavior—and if FLOTUS is going to promote kindness online she can't do that without addressing the fact that people are endorsing cruelty every time they LIKE or RT a mean comment. This includes the malicious Tweets that are coming from her own household.

Cyberbullying - the unavoidable C-word

I said it.

FLOTUS needs to say it. You can't talk about online hate without recognizing that cyberbullying is killing young people, ruining lives, and destroying society. Today we have people we should respect acting worse than children online and off. We have politicians sexting teenagers and online sexual harassment which gives legs to the #MeToo movement. That is cyberbullying.

I want to believe the First Lady wants to end the war on cyber-abuse, but first she has to be able to say the word. It's cyberbullying. Face it, confront it. It's the first step to stopping it.

So FLOTUS, if you are listening, like other public figures before you, you have the power to make a difference. We're counting on you.

Sue Scheff of Ponte Vedra Beach is the author of “Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion in an Age of Cruelty and Trolling” (Sourcebooks, October 2017) and foreword from Monica Lewinsky.

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