Melania Trump discusses cyberbullying with Facebook, Google

The first lady met with Silicon Valley giants to talk about online hate and harassment. It comes at a time when tech firms are already in the doghouse.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read
Rose Garden for St Patrick's Day

First lady Melania Trump has invited tech companies to the White House.

Getty Images

The world's biggest tech companies met with first lady Melania Trump on Tuesday at the White House to talk about how Silicon Valley can do a better job of fighting online harassment.  

The meeting included representatives from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and Snap, as well as the Internet Association and the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI).

"Together we can make a real difference in encouraging positive behaviors on social media," the first lady said

In the course of about an hour, the six tech companies and two nongovernmental organizations covered what FOSI's CEO Stephen Balkam, described as a wide-ranging discussion on an assortment of topics, including teaching kids to apply the Golden Rule online and what tech companies can do to help parents out.

He said Trump was particularly interested in helping educate parents on how to deal with their children on mobile, and in the pros and cons of anonymity online. 

Balkam said there weren't any particularly contentious moments, and there wasn't a to-do list when the meeting was over, but he felt optimistic. 

"I think it was the opening shot and she signaled there was more to come," he said.

The visit to Washington comes as Silicon Valley is under political fire. Over the weekend, Facebook acknowledged that account data of millions of users was misused by Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based consultancy hired by the Trump presidential campaign. A number of politicians are calling on CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress on the matter.

Raising awareness about cyberbullying has been on the first lady's agenda since November 2016, when she said she would focus on the issue. Although the first lady was the one who reportedly called Tuesday's meeting, critics point out that President Donald Trump has used Twitter as a platform to constantly attack his opponents with insults and belittling nicknames.  

Regardless, the tech giants have been under serious scrutiny themselves for how hate and harassment spread on their services.

Earlier this month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged the platform has a serious problem with harassment, abuse and trolls. He vowed to fix it. "We're committing Twitter to help increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation, and to hold ourselves publicly accountable towards progress," he tweeted.

Zuckerberg has also repeatedly promised to clean up Facebook. In January, he pledged to solve the social network's biggest problems, which include harassment and election security. "This will be a serious year of self-improvement and I'm looking forward to learning from working to fix our issues together," he wrote on his Facebook page. 

"Today's discussion offered our industry the opportunity to highlight investments in policies, controls, resources, partnerships and programs that help promote a positive and safe online experience for people of all ages," Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, said in a statement. 

First published March 20, 9:51 a.m. PT
Updates, 2:02 p.m.:
Adds quote from Melania Trump and from the Internet Association; 3:18 p.m.: Adds comments from the Family Online Safety Institute's Stephen Balkam.

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.

Logging Out: Welcome to the crossroads of online life and the afterlife.