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Does Trump's Behavior On Twitter Amount To Cyberbullying?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's take a moment to try to square two facts. Here's one. First, Lady Melania Trump says she wants to focus on cyberbullying. She says we have to find better ways to talk to and respect each other online. Here's another fact. Mrs. Trump's husband has in the last week called two MSNBC anchors low-IQ, crazy and psycho on Twitter. Then he followed up by tweeting a video of himself body-slamming someone with a CNN logo superimposed over his head.

All of this got us wondering - does the president's behavior amount to cyberbullying? And if so, what does that mean for the first lady's potential initiative to fight cyberbullying? We're joined now by Parry Aftab. She's a lawyer who leads the Internet safety group WiredSafety. Parry Aftab, thanks for speaking to us.

PARRY AFTAB: Well, I appreciate you asking.

KELLY: Does the president's behavior on Twitter amount to cyberbullying?

AFTAB: No. Cyberbullying as we define it is minor to minor.

KELLY: You mean underage children. OK.

AFTAB: Yeah, so minors to minors. So if young people harass each other using digital technology it's cyberbullying. When adults get involved we call it cyber harassment. What he's done is appalling. What he's done is immature. But it probably doesn't rise even to the level of cyber harassment.

KELLY: And why not?

AFTAB: Well, when you look at cyber harassment as a crime it requires repeated behavior or credible threat.

KELLY: Twitter's very clear about its policy of no abusive messages and no threats. Does the fact that the president's tweets are being allowed to stand suggest to you that this hasn't crossed a certain line?

AFTAB: What he's done clearly does violate the terms of service on Twitter and most other social networks.

KELLY: So why do you think it's still up there?

AFTAB: Well, Twitter's former CEO was quoted a couple of years ago saying that Twitter, quote, unquote, "sucks" at cyberbullying. And they do. It's not just removing those offending posts. It's shutting down accounts. And I think that that kind of thing would have happened if he were someone other than President Trump and other than guaranteeing a lot of eyeballs and views of Twitter.

KELLY: We mentioned that Melania Trump has pledged to take up this issue of cyberbullying. Let me let you hear that moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MELANIA TRUMP: We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other. We must find better ways to honor and support the basic goodness of our children, especially in social media.

KELLY: That was Mrs. Trump speaking last fall. We reached out to her spokesperson about this, and the update is that the first lady is still being thoughtful about her platform and will maybe be announcing something in the coming weeks. You don't think the president's behavior does amount to cyberbullying. But given the way that he uses Twitter, how does that complicate the first lady's potential initiative on this front?

AFTAB: Cyberbullying is a very, very serious issue. It's been tied to a number of suicides, many, many issues of self-harm, cutting, eating disorders. And it's commendable that anyone, first lady or anyone else, would want to tackle it. I don't mind taking President Trump on for what he's doing. But I don't want her attacked because she's married to somebody who's acting online inappropriately. I don't think that the first lady can control him any more than the Republicans can.

KELLY: Parry Aftab. She leads the Internet safety group WiredSafety, which runs a program, Stop Cyberbullying. Parry Aftab, thank you.

AFTAB: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.