Donald Trump’s White House social media summit, explained
You may have questions about this. For instance:
No. In a normal administration, it might be meaningful if the president of the United States hosted a “social media summit” on the heels of sustained criticism of social media companies and calls for increased scrutiny and regulatory action. But this is the Trump administration.
If you’re still here after that, happy to answer other queries. For instance:
An array of online Trump supporters/trolls, including, per my colleague Emily Stewart: “Ali Alexander, a Republican operative who tweeted that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is not an ‘American Black’ after the first round of Democratic debates, which sparked a racist birther-like campaign, is expected to attend. (The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. quote-tweeted and later deleted that post.) According to Media Matters for America, also expected to attend are right-wing figure Bill Mitchell, pro-Trump meme creator Carpe Donktum, and Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe.”
Who isn’t coming?
Anyone from Facebook, Twitter, or Google’s YouTube — the world’s dominant social platforms. A Facebook rep says the company wasn’t invited; reps for Google and Twitter declined to say anything.
Depends on who you ask. Here’s White House rep Judd Deere, earlier this week: “After receiving thousands of responses, the president wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media.” Here’s Trump on Twitter today: “A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies. We will not let them get away with it much longer.”
“Dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression” sound pretty bad. What’s Trump talking about?
Trump, along with some conservatives (including the people he has invited today) say that Facebook, Twitter, et al, have an anti-conservative bias and act on that by … well, they get pretty vague when it comes to specifics. Sometimes conservatives claim that Twitter or YouTube has displayed biased by kicking the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos or Alex Jones off their platforms after repeated policy violations. Trump has also accused Silicon Valley companies of “trying to rig the  election,” without explaining how that would work.
How do Facebook and the other companies Trump is complaining about respond to these charges?
They say they’re not true. Here’s a recent example of that rebuttal, which Google would like attributed to a generic spokesperson: “We build our products with extraordinary care and safeguards to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without any regard for political viewpoint.” Off the record, they roll their eyes and say these claims are not true. They also point out that there is no serious study that supports the charges. And they say that some of the complaints arise because there aren’t nearly as many left-leaning bad actors on social platforms that Facebook and others would need to discipline, compared to right-leaning trolls like Jones. They also point out that conservative voices thrive throughout social media. Fox News, for instance, is Facebook’s most popular news publisher, by a long shot.
Wait a minute. Didn’t I read that Donald Trump’s reelection campaign just took out an expensive ad on YouTube? And that it has spent more than $5 million on Facebook ads this year alone?
Pick one. Pick more than one:
- It’s an easy way to promote (with semi-witting help from media people like me, who are giving it attention) what Trump hopes will be a wedge issue in 2020: that social media outlets have supposedly joined traditional publishers in working against Trump and his supporters. (Republicans campaigning against news publishers is a time-tested tactic that dates back at least as far as Richard Nixon, who — not coincidentally — was advised by Roger Ailes, who most of you know as the man who built Fox News.)
- It’s a way to reward some of Trump’s most effective online fans and to encourage them to keep it up for the election cycle.
- It’s a way to troll people like the ones writing this article or reading it.
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