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WASHINGTON (AP) — Melania Trump on Monday cited the influence of “Achy Breaky Heart” singer Billy Ray Cyrus as she asked spouses of the nation's governors to address cyberassault in their states.
“I know the many issues associated with online safety will be hard to stop, but there is a need now more than ever to teach our children healthy behavior to secure a safer future for all of them,” the first lady said before she sat down with the spouses for a cozy lunch in the White House Blue Room.
Online safety is one of three components of the first lady's “Be Best” youth initiative. She and Cyrus met last November at the White House, where he introduced her to the Smiths, of Manchester, Tennessee.
Sixteen-year-old Channing Smith took his life in September 2019 after the high school junior found out that intimate messages he exchanged with a boy had been spread across social media by classmates. At the time, Channing had not been public about his sexuality.
“He was so ashamed and felt so hopeless that Channing committed suicide,” Mrs. Trump said. “Since their tragic loss, the Smith family has been using their grief to partner with influencers such as Billy Ray Cyrus to educate people about the dangers of cyberassault.”
Cyrus, who achieved notoriety with the 1992 hit, “Achy Breaky Heart,” performed at Channing's memorial service.
The first lady's focus on negative online behavior comes as her husband, President Donald Trump, uses his Twitter account to go after opponents. He has spent the days since his acquittal last week in the Senate impeachment trial sending belittling tweets about a handful of lawmakers who voted against him.
Mrs. Trump in the past has said she is mindful that people are skeptical of her focus on online bullying because of her husband's behavior. But she has said she won't be deterred from her goal of helping children and the next generation.
“I would like to take this time to ask that you and your spouses consider addressing this issue in your own home states so that no family will have to suffer from a loss like the Smiths,” she told the spouses, who accompanied many of America's governors to Washington for their annual winter meeting and White House visit.
She asked them to help “promote values of encouragement, kindness, compassion and respect.”
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