President TrumpDonald John TrumpControversial platform Gab slams White House for not inviting it to social media summit GOP senator: US should ‘reevaluate’ long-term relationship with Saudis Pelosi reportedly told Trump deputy: ‘What was your name, dear?’ MORE on Thursday denounced the world’s top social media companies as being biased against him and his supporters and pledged that his administration will be exploring “regulatory and legislative solutions” to protect free speech online.
“We have terrible bias, we have censorship like nobody has any understanding or nobody can believe,” he said.
Trump’s remarks came at the White House’s controversial “social media summit,” which drew about 250 attendees including top administration officials and a crowd of right-wing social media personalities. The president announced that he will be convening a meeting of the companies at the White House next week over concerns that they routinely censor right-wing perspectives.
“We’re going to be calling a big meeting for the companies, they have to be here,” Trump said, adding that he’ll be inviting Republican and Democratic members of Congress to join.
The White House’s escalating campaign will add to the troubles of tech companies, which have spent years denying claims of political bias as unfounded and unfair. Facebook, Twitter and Google — none of which were invited to the summit, which featured ample talk of bias and the unparalleled power of Big Tech — all declined to comment on the meeting.
Trump’s social media summit incited pushback and controversy even before it kicked off, as Democrats and leading tech groups greeted it with criticism and skepticism.
The event itself featured panels and discussions followed by a long and winding speech from Trump, which came off as a campaign speech at certain points as he touted his administration’s economic and trade accomplishments. The president spent the bulk of the speech boasting about his own prolific social media following — he has hundreds of millions of followers across multiple platforms and regularly takes to Twitter to break news and insult his foes.
Trump also acknowledged that social media has been a boon to him on the campaign trail and in the Oval Office, saying press releases rarely get pickup on their own but “if I put it out on social media, it’s like an explosion” and noting that he’s watched his follower count tick up.
But Trump focused his criticism on the accusations of bias. The summit was only the latest development in an ongoing crusade from Trump and other top Republicans over allegations that companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube intentionally discriminate against them and their views.
Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyCritics seek tough punishment for YouTube over kids’ privacy Julián Castro applauds Nike’s decision to pull Betsy Ross flag shoes Laura Ingraham says her family won’t wear Nike again after ‘Betsy Ross flag’ sneaker canceled MORE (Mo.), one of the leading Republican tech critics on Capitol Hill, spoke at the summit, alluding to his bill that would require the companies to submit to audits proving they are politically unbiased in order to receive protection from tech’s legal shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“Google, Facebook, Twitter, they’ve gotten these special deals from government,” Hawley said. “They’re treated unlike anyone else. If they want to keep their special deal, here’s the bargain: they have to stop discriminating against conservatives.”
The summit featured an array of lawmakers who railed against Big Tech, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyLawmakers join Nats Park fundraiser for DC kids charity Heavy loss by female candidate in Republican NC runoff sparks shock Mnuchin signals he wants debt ceiling vote before August recess MORE (R-Calif.), Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGovernment to issue licenses for business with Huawei Blackburn says China building ‘spy network’ through Huawei technology The price of privacy on the Potomac MORE (R-Tenn.), Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawThe benefit of electing veterans is more bipartisan lawmaking Congress needs to continue fighting the opioid epidemic Liz Cheney hits back at Ocasio-Cortez over concentration camp comments: ‘This isn’t model Congress’ MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzCongress should step up on the threat of war with Iran This week: Lawmakers return as Amash fallout looms State: 2001, 2002 war authorizations don’t apply to Iran except ‘to defend US or partner forces’ MORE (R-Fla.).
Blackburn at the event announced she will be leading a tech task force focused on social media censorship on the Senate Judiciary Committee, her office confirmed to The Hill.
Administration officials in attendance included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnchuin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHillicon Valley: Appeals court rules Trump can’t block people on Twitter | Tech giants to testify in House antitrust investigation | DHS set for grilling over facial recognition tech | Commerce to allow sales to Huawei Census paves moment of truth for the Supreme Court and rule of law Can he do that? How to answer this common question in the Trump era MORE.
Critics blasted the summit throughout the day over its controversial guest list, which included a conservative radio show host known for promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory and right-wing personality Ali Alexander, who recently incited a firestorm over a post in which he accused Democratic presidential contender Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders to join diabetes patients on trip to Canada to buy cheaper insulin Senate Democrats skipping Pence’s border trip Democratic senators want candidates to take Swalwell’s hint and drop out MORE (D-Calif.) of not being an “American black.”
Trump joked that some of the attendees were “out there,” but said even they “should have a voice.” He referred to the crowd as “online journalists and influencers.”
“You’re challenging the media gatekeepers and the corporate censors to bring the facts straight to the American people and that’s what you’re doing,” Trump said.
Trump also praised some of the attendees, who have supported his presidency on social media.
“Some of you are extraordinary. Can’t say everybody. No, but some of you are extraordinary,” Trump said. “The crap you think of is unbelievable.”
But civil rights groups pointed out that many of the top attendees have been accused of spreading misinformation and hate online.
“I see this summit as a propaganda tool to pressure social media companies to allow hate, racism, xenophobia and religious bigotry, homophobia, to run wild,” Jessica González, the founder of the Change the Terms coalition, which has pressured social media companies to take a stand against bigoted and extremist content online, told The Hill in a phone interview.
Media Matters, a left-wing media watchdog group, in a statement said conservative bias claims were an attempt to “game the refs.”
“If the Trump Administration wanted to hold tech companies to account they could pressure them to better protect Americans from foreign interference, misinformation, and hate speech,” Cristina López G., the deputy director for extremism at Media Matters, said in a statement. “Instead, they’ve chosen to focus on claims of supposed bias against conservatives that have no basis in fact.”
Whether the bias claims can be substantiated or not, the summit was a clear red flag for companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook, which have been trying to navigate dueling pressures from progressives who want them to crack down on hate speech and Republicans who want them to take less action against any online speech.
Crenshaw told The Hill that he believes the companies should protect all speech except when it “incites violence directly.”
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have taken stronger actions against white supremacist and extremist content online over the past few months.
Twitter just last week announced it would ban any speech that “dehumanizes” religious groups, saying it hopes to open that up to other protected classes in the future. Facebook recently banned a slew of controversial figures, including some on the right, they determined to be “dangerous.” And YouTube has been working to reduce the distribution of videos that spread misinformation and bigotry.
But it will be an increasingly difficult battle to wage as Trump steps up his assault on those companies.
“Big tech must not censor the voices of the American people,” Trump said.