The three-time Olympic gold medal gymnast, 20, is the first Change Ambassador for Hack Harassment, which is an effort between media and tech companies as well as Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to “take a stand against online harassment.”
Douglas told kids in a Good Morning America interview Thursday about the initiative, reassuring them they “are not alone.” She added, “And even though it may seem the world’s against you — and I definitely felt like the world was definitely against me in Rio — I’m here today to tell you that’s not the case. There are people out there who love you and your life is very valuable and it’s very important, so just stay strong.”
Douglas spoke from experience during the interview.
Online bullies wrote negative social media messages about the star athlete during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as well as years prior to the event. Users made fun of the Olympian’s hair, facial expressions and more, wrote the Los Angeles Times:
In 2012, Douglas was intensely criticized for her hairstyle, a sporty ponytail that other teammates also wore. Many believe she was targeted because of her race. And this year, Douglas couldn’t catch a break from continued online attacks. After she stood with teammates for the national anthem, but did not place her hand over her heart, she was called unpatriotic and criticized for not honoring the American flag.
“I started Googling myself, which I probably shouldn’t have done. There were so many things about me,” Douglas said on “Good Morning America” on Friday. “I was so hurt because people brought up my past and all the things that I did wrong.”
Even after apologizing on social media for not saluting the American flag, the harassment did not stop for Douglas. She was also attacked for her perceived appearance and attitude, for not showing enough enthusiasm for fellow teammates in Rio.
With the campaign, the Olympian is encouraging everyone to take a pledge against bullying and telling parents to “play a role” in preventing it.
You can find out more about Hack Harassment on its website.