"A Conversation With President Obama," MTV's forum with the commander in chief to discuss issues important to young voters, kicked off with broad-spectrum questions about bipartisanship and the controversial stimulus package to address the economic downturn.
But the live chat quickly drilled down to a subject uniquely affecting young people: cyberbullying. Ali von Paris, a junior at the University of Maryland, revealed that she has been a victim of harassment on the Internet. In light of the recent teen suicides as a result of Web bullying, she wanted to know if there were anything that could be done to stop the anonymous torment.
President Obama talked about concrete measures his administration has taken to address the issue, the challenges of policing the Web and the importance of respecting personal differences rather than mocking them.
"Obviously, our heart breaks when we read about what happened at Rutgers, when we read about some of these other people who are doing nothing to deserve the kind of harassment and bullying — just completely gets out of hand," the president said, referencing the recent suicide of a gay college student following Internet harassment.
President Obama went on to say he recently held a Department of Education summit to talk about helping state and local government create mechanisms to combat bullying and protect the bullied. And he said he supports schools instituting polices that take a zero-tolerance stance against all forms of harassment, whether online or face-to-face. Yet he admitted the limits such policies can have.
"It is challenging, because part of the power of the Internet is that information flows out there, and it's generally not censored and it's generally not controlled by any single authority," he said.
The key solution, the president said, is that we all must learn to put ourselves in the shoes of others, a lesson he and first lady Michelle Obama strive to teach their two daughters.
"The law is a powerful thing, but the law doesn't always change what's in people's hearts," he said. "So all of us have an obligation to think about how we're treating other people. What we may think is funny or cute may end up being powerfully hurtful."
What did you think of Obama's response to the cyberbullying question? Let us know in the comments!