Did Melania Trump Plagiarize a Pamphlet for the ‘Be Best’ Campaign?

The White House quickly corrected a statement on its web site claiming that a document written by the Federal Trade Commission in 2014 had been co-authored by First Lady Melania Trump.

Claim

Melania Trump plagiarized a document from the Federal Trade Commission for her "Be Best" campaign.

Rating

Mostly False About this rating

A document published by the FTC in 2014 was briefly presented on the White House web site as a pamphlet by "by First Lady Melania Trump and the Federal Trade Commission,."

Melania Trump did not claim she had written the pamphlet herself, and she contributed an introduction to a slightly revised version of the booklet. The FTC was always credited for the creation of the booklet and supported its inclusion in the First Lady's "Be Best" campaign.

Origin

Ever since Melania Trump delivered an oddly familiar speech at the Republican National Convention in 2016, the First Lady has been dogged by accusations of plagiarism (many of which were nothing more than fake news). A new batch of allegations surfaced in May 2018, as keen-eyed readers noticed that a pamphlet linked to Trump’s new “Be Best” campaign was nearly identical to a document released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2014:

It is true that the “Be Best” campaign linked to a pamphlet that was nearly identical to material published by the FTC in 2014. You can see the FTC’s pamphlet, “Net Cetera. Chatting with Kids About Being Online,” here, and the “Talking with Kids About Being Online” from the White House here. These two documents are nearly identical (with the exception of an introduction from the First Lady), but it’s disingenuous to say that Melania Trump “plagiarized” this material. 

The main piece of evidence supporting the “plagiarism” charge is that the pamphlet was originally presented on the White House web site as a booklet “by First Lady Melania Trump and the Federal Trade Commission,” in reference to the First Lady’s having contributed an introduction to the “Talking with Kids About Being Online” pamphlet. That wording was soon updated to describe “Talking with Kids about Being Online” as “a Federal Trade Commission booklet, promoted by First Lady Melania Trump.” At no point did Melania Trump take credit for (or claim she had written) the entire pamphlet.

Nearly every page of the “Talking with Kids About Being Online” pamphlet contains a link to the FTC’s web site about Internet safety, and the final page lists web sites for both the Be Best campaign and the FTC’s internet safety page:

The White House released a contentious statement on 8 May 2018 about the plagiarism accusations:

Mrs. Trump agreed to add Be Best branding and distribute the booklet in an effort to use her platform to amplify the positive message within. As she said in yesterday’s speech, she is going to use Be Best to promote people and organizations to encourage conversation and replication, and helping the FTC distribute this booklet is just one small example.

Despite providing countless outlets with ample background, information, and on-the-record comments from the FTC, some media have chosen to take a day meant to promote kindness and positive efforts on behalf of children, to instead lob baseless accusations towards the First Lady and her new initiatives.

As stated by Nathaniel Wood, Consumer and Business Education Division Associate Director, FTC, “We frequently work with members of Congress, the White House, other government agencies, and the private sector. As a small and independent civil law enforcement agency, the FTC encourages our partners to help spread our message to consumers. We were excited that Mrs. Trump distributed this important information about staying safe online. We look forward to continuing to work with her and others to help parents and children use the Internet safely and responsibly.”

Our office will continue to focus on helping children and I encourage members of the media to attempt to Be Best in their own professions, and focus on some of the children and programs Mrs. Trump highlighted in her remarks yesterday.

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