Published 10:54 p.m. UTC Sep 5, 2018
WASHINGTON – As President Donald Trump increasingly criticizes social media companies and Google’s treatment of him, former aides said they never saw him use many of the web sites he vilifies.
Though Trump mastered Twitter as a campaign tool and has used the platform to communicate with supporters for years, three former aides interviewed by USA TODAY described Trump as averse to email, rarely interested in surfing the web and more comfortable with paper than a computer screen.
The aides, some of whom have known the president for years, requested anonymity to discuss their private interactions with Trump.
Executives at Facebook and Twitter are set to testify at a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday as their products are increasingly facing criticism from Republicans for perceived bias. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, will likely answer questions about those concerns as well as steps both companies have taken to reduce foreign influence on their platforms.
Officials at Google are not expected to testify.
Trump blasted Google last week for what he described as “rigged” search results and a top White House official said the administration is “looking into” regulations for the company. The White House has not said how Trump came to his conclusions of bias.
“My guess is that somebody googled it and brought it to him,” one former aide said. “What happens with the president is other people next to him have a laptop and they’ll turn it to him and show him.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Trump supporters said it doesn’t matter if the president is engaged with technology or is regularly running Google searches.
“If you want to apply this standard then there’s very few people who pilot an airplane and yet they write and pass FAA regulations,” said Matt Braynard, a former data director and strategist for Trump’s campaign who now runs a group seeking to turn out disaffected rural and blue-collar voters.
“Almost everyone who understands how Google operates has viewed his remarks as not credible,” said Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.
“Because he doesn’t have the context to understand how things are working,” Goldman said, “there’s no filter between what he hears and what he tweets out.”
Trump’s prowess on Twitter is well established and likely aided in his upset win in 2016. His frequently barbed tweets, almost always sent via the Twitter app on an iPhone, have roiled Washington countless times and often make news.
They also tend to arrive in the morning: Of 370 tweets Trump has posted over the past month, 101 went up before 9 a.m., according to a USA TODAY analysis.
Both Trump and the White House have accounts on Facebook and Instagram, a popular photo sharing site, but White House officials declined to say whether the president ever engages on those platforms directly.
Former aides described Trump as being not significantly different than CEOs at large companies – able to use computers and other technology but more comfortable allowing others to do that work for him.
Several described printing online documents for him to read. One former aide said most of his interactions on the internet begin with a link on Twitter.
Trump's initial tweet criticizing Google followed a report by a conservative media outlet days earlier that suggested most Google search results for Trump pull up "liberal media outlets." The headline of that story alleged "96 percent" of results on Google were anti-Trump, the same percentage Trump cited in his tweet.