On July 11, 2019, President Donald Trump hosted a summit to discuss social media issues with top online promoters and members of Congress.
About 250 online journalists and influencers joined forces to defend the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which protects free speech. Concern over leftward-leaning media bias and the suppression of conservative voices is prompting retaliatory action from the White House.
Attendees “included a lot of people who hold sort of extremist views and spread the sort of stuff across the Internet that you’re talking about. But it also included organizations like the Heritage Foundation. It included [a] conservative-leaning media channel [which is] called TheBlaze. So it was this sort of mix of fringe figures, conservative sort of institutions and then conservative media,” according to Katie Rogers, White House Correspondent for The New York Times.
House spokesperson Judd Deere said the purpose behind the secretive summit was to hold “a robust conversation on the opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.”
It came as no surprise that the liberal press and social media sites jumped as one to condemn Trump’s summit. Slate said the summit was about “intimidating” social media. Venture Beat called the summit “a carnival of conservative bias victimhood.” CNN labeled the participants as “right-wing extremists,” and NBC News charged participants (in advance of the actual event) of “spreading false information.” The New York Times termed summit attendees “right-wing social media trolls,” and Vanity Fair called the convocation a “troll convention.”
The news outlets with the loudest and nastiest complaints were those excluded from the high-powered meeting which may be the first step in busting the de facto monopoly that has developed among Big Tech firms such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and YouTube.
Trump himself has been the victim of the attack on conservatives in the mainstream liberal press. On July 1, Trump had told Tucker Carlson during an interview that Twitter was potentially guilty of breaking the law:
“If you look at Twitter, I have millions and millions of people on Twitter and it’s a very good arm for me. It’s great social media. But they don’t treat me right. 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.”
On May 15, President Trump asked Americans on a White House website to share their stories of suspected political bias. Thousands responded to the poll of people who feel they’ve been wrongfully censored by social media sites such as Facebook or YouTube. “No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump,” invited the Oval Office.
The poll is now closed but the web page blazons a sentiment echoed by many free-thought Americans:
SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
During the summit, Trump emphasized the importance that social media leaders have on getting the whole truth out to the general public:
“Each of you is fulfilling a vital role in our nation. You are challenging the media gatekeepers in the corporate sensors to bring the facts straight to the American people and that is what you are doing. You were going right to the people possibly we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Social media sites let average Americans get information denied by mainstream outlets. More than 500 million people around the world get news and views from the personal and organizational accounts that summit attendees produce.
Trump attributed his 2016 election win to social media supporters who have the advantage of being able to “communicate directly with our citizens without having to go through the fake news filter, very simple. Together you reach more people than any television, broadcast network by far, not even close.”
The President also underscored the fact that he is the first U.S. president to communicate directly with his constituents via the internet when he explained his new approach to getting his words out to the public:
“We hardly do press releases anymore. People don’t pick it up…If I put it out on social media, it’s like an explosion.”
Trump promised to follow up with key players from the allegedly anti-conservative social media companies in Washington within a month to stump for “more transparency, more accountability, and more freedom.”
In an interesting side note, social media giant (and accused suppressor of conservative content and commentators) Twitter lost service worldwide during Trump’s social media summit.
Twitter Support tweeted at 3:16pm:
“The interruption was due to an internal system change, which we’re now fixing. We’re sorry for the inconvenience and should be at 100% soon.”
Twitter executives denied that the outage artificially restricted Trump’s audience reach. Still, what a convenient (and condemnatory) coincidence from one the companies accused of muzzling the very voices present at the social media summit.