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Gabby Douglas gets back at the haters by becoming an ambassador for online harassment

Gabby Douglas gets back at the haters by becoming an ambassador for online harassment
Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas appears at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

On the surface, three-time Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas has it all. The 20-year-old first received worldwide attention for becoming the first African American to win the individual all-around and team gold in gymnastics in the 2012 London Olympics. She also competed in this year's Rio Olympics and was part of the Final Five USA team.

But even her talent, athleticism and youth couldn't protect her from online harassment. On Friday, Douglas announced that she will be the first Change Ambassador for Hack Harassment — using her own painful experience to help others.

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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.

The experience inspired Douglas to use her platform to spread awareness about online harassment, which affects 70% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24, according to the Pew Research Center.

"I'm actually going to go to campuses to sit down with these kids — be personal, be real," Douglas said. "Even though it may seem like the world is against you, and I definitely felt like the world was definitely against me in Rio, but I'm here today to tell you that's not the case. There are people out there who love you."

Twitter: @makedaeaster

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