President Donald Trump kicked off his Thursday morning by doing what he does best: tweeting. Amid a sea of missives, which ranged from attacks on the "Fake News Media" to the Mueller Report, he said it would be "a big and exciting day at the White House for Social Media." It was all a lead-up to his administration's first "Social Media Summit," an event that was announced back in June and took place yesterday. Despite being billed as a summit about social media, though, the Trump administration didn't invite anyone from the two biggest players in the space: Facebook and Twitter. Instead, it brought together people who are under the impression that these tech giants are censoring conservative voices on the internet.
"A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies," Trump tweeted. "We will not let them get away with it much longer." While Trump didn't mention Facebook and Twitter by name, it's not hard to figure out who he was referring to by "them." After all, he has continuously accused both companies of anti-conservative bias, going as far as to claim that Twitter was "shadow banning" members of the Republican party last year. That conspiracy theory, however, has been debunked. Repeatedly.
The company said it wasn't hiding conservative figures on purpose from its search results and, once the issue was brought to its attention, it was quickly fixed. At the time, Twitter said the reason why the names of certain Republicans weren't auto-populating in search, which is what Trump and others referred to as "shadow banning," was simply a side effect of a change it made to its "behavior-based" algorithms. Still, that hasn't stopped Trump from going after Twitter. Just a couple of weeks ago, ahead of the so-called social media summit, he claimed that Twitter was keeping people from following him on the site.
"If you look at Twitter, I have millions and millions of people on Twitter and it's, you know, it's a very good arm for me. It's great social media. But they don't treat me right," said Trump in an interview with Fox News. "And I know for a fact, I mean, a lot of people try and follow me, and it's very hard. I have so many people coming up that they say, 'Sir, it's so hard. They make it hard to follow.' What they're doing is wrong and possibly illegal. And a lot of things are being looked at right now." In a meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey earlier this year, Trump reportedly spent a "significant portion" of it complaining about the service deliberately removing a number of his followers, something the company has said can happen as it purges bot and spam accounts.
But those explanations haven't mattered to Trump. And his "Social Media Summit" was really just about continuing to push the rhetoric that Twitter and Facebook are anti-conservative. "Today, I am directing my Administration to explore all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect the free speech rights of ALL AMERICANS," Trump said in a tweet after the event. "We hope to see more transparency, more accountability, and more FREEDOM!"
Among guests in attendance at the "Social Media Summit" were Ali Alexander, a right-wing figure who recently tweeted that 2020 presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) "is not an American Black," and blogger Jim Hoft from the Gateway Pundit, a site known for spreading hoaxes on the web. There was also Carpe Donktum, who describes himself as an "eternally sarcastic memesmith specializing in the creation of memes to support President Donald J. Trump" and Millie Weaver, a reporter from Infowars, the site owned by far-right conspiracy theorist and social media-banned Alex Jones. Oh, and Diamond and Silk.
Interestingly, although most of the summit was spent discussing alleged censorship of conservatives by social-media companies, none of the people who have actually been banned by Facebook or Twitter were there. Not Alex Jones. Not Louis Farrakhan. Not Laura Loomer. Not Paul Nehlen. Not Joseph Watson. Not Milo Yiannopoulos.
According to The Daily Beast, which spoke to a senior Trump administration official involved with the summit's planning, that would just be going too far: "What benefit would it be to anyone if Laura Loomer were in the same room with the president? Why on earth would we do that? We aren't that stupid. Come on." Based on that statement, it seems as if Trump's team wants to champion the cause and throw its weight behind far-right extremists, yet doesn't actually want to be seen with them.
With the 2020 presidential election looming, it's clear that Trump is looking to rally his base, and he sees those individuals present at the "Social Media Summit" as internet allies who can help him do that. As The Washington Post reported, Trump was full of praise for the "journalists, influencers" and meme creators in attendance, who combined can reach hundreds of millions of people on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. "Some of you are extraordinary," Trump told them at the event. "The crap you think of is unbelievable." That "crap" he's referring to, of course, includes inflammatory tweets about his political opponents, videos full of misinformation and the spread of conspiracy theories.
In essence, the White House's "Social Media Summit" was simply created to validate far-right propaganda, not to have an open conversation about what Facebook and Twitter can do better. And look, we know these social media giants are far from perfect. (In fact, at times they're downright terrible.) But they need to take action against hate speech, fake news and viral hoaxes -- regardless of ideology. You could even make the argument that Facebook and Twitter are sometimes too soft and senseless with their policies, as they continue to push their argument that they don't want to be the "arbiters of truth." Remember when Facebook refused to remove that doctored "drunk Nancy Pelosi" video?
Both Twitter and Facebook declined to comment on the "Social Media Summit," but the latter did confirm to Engadget that it wasn't invited to the event. The president is apparently planning to host them at the White House, though it is unclear when. "We're going to be calling a big meeting of the companies," Trump said during his remarks at the event. "They have to be here." If and when that "big meeting" does take place, maybe something that's actually productive for society will come out of it. But I wouldn't get your hopes up.