Published 8:25 AM EDT Jul 11, 2019
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will host a White House event Thursday on claims of political bias in social media, but it sounds like he will only hear one side of the argument – the conservative one.
The list of invitees appears dominated by social media users who, like the Twitter-deploying president, claim conservative views are being censored by websites like Twitter, Google and Facebook. Those three companies, however, did not get an invitation.
The White House said the event, billed as the "Presidential Social Media Summit," is designed so that Trump can hear directly from users, including those who responded to a White House request for examples of alleged bias.
"After receiving thousands of responses, the President wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media," said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
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The White House has declined to provide a guest list for Thursday's event, but several social media users have announced they were invited or are attending, including self-proclaimed "guerilla journalist" James O'Keefe and talk show host Bill Mitchell. Ben Garrison, a conservative cartoonist who has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for a cartoon the group called antisemitic, said he was uninvited by the White House following an outcry over his invitation.
In a tweet on Thursday, Trump said "the White House will be hosting a very big and very important Social Media Summit today. Would I have become President without Social Media? Yes (probably)!"
In a follow-up tweet, Trump said "a big subject" of the summit will be what he called "the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies. We will not let them get away with it much longer." The president also criticized the "fake news media."
Internet companies did not comment on the summit, though their trade association disputed claims of bias.
Social media firms "don’t have a political ideology or political bias. Internet companies continue to succeed and grow by building a broad user base regardless of party affiliation or political perspectives," said Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association.
Trump is holding the summit in the wake of a legal loss on the subject. A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Trump cannot block people on his Twitter feed, describing the practice as "unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination."
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Trump, who has met with high-tech executives like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, has long claimed that social media firms play "political games."
During a recent interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News – who asked Trump, "can you get re-elected if Google is against you?" – the president claimed that Twitter is making it hard for people to follow him.
"What they are doing is wrong and possibly illegal, and a lot of things are being looked at right now," Trump said. "But you're right – Google is very powerful, but I won."
And in June, Trump told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that the tech companies should “be sued because of what’s happening with the bias.”
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In mid-May, the White House created a website that asked voters for examples of censorship on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Proclaiming that "SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH," the website said that "too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear 'violations' of user policies."
In the run-up to Thursday's summit, Deere again pointed to the White House website, saying the administration "launched a tool to allow Americans, regardless of their political views, to share how they have been affected by bias online."
Claims of bias on social media is a frequent topic of conservative talk shows, and a complaint made often by Trump supporters, many of which announced they'd be attending.
"Twitter must be concerned that I am attending the White House Social Media Summit in DC tomorrow. Their #shadowban algos are set to TURBO this morning on my feed. :-), " Mitchell tweeted.
Here are others who have said on social media or in media reports that they were invited to the event.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
Sen. Blackburn, a first-term senator from Tennessee, has been critical of big tech companies and what she refers to as “big tech censorship.” Her office said she plans to attend, according to Politico.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
Rep. Gaetz has been a staunch defender of Trump on Twitter, though his Twitter usage recently got him into trouble with the House Ethics Committee, which will investigate Gaetz's Twitter usage after he tweeted comments at Michael Cohen before Trump's former personal lawyer testified before Congress. Politico was the first outlet to report Gaetz's planned attendance.
O’Keefe is the head of Project Veritas, a controversial group known for attempting to send operatives undercover to record videos reportedly showing anti-conservative bias at tech companies or showing Democratic candidates in hidden-camera moments. For example, Project Veritas sent operatives to infiltrate Democratic campaigns during the 2018 midterm elections to record videos of candidates. O’Keefe has defended the practice, calling himself a “guerilla journalist.” O'Keefe tweeted on July 8 to confirm his attendance at the summit.
Mitchell is the host of YourVoice America and a prominent defender of Trump on Twitter. The now-defunct Weekly Standard called him Trump’s “unofficial Twitter mascot.” Mitchell has also promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory on his show. Mitchell tweeted on July 2 to say he was attending.
Matze is the CEO of Parler, a Twitter alternative used by Trump supporters, some of whom have been banned from Twitter like Gavin McInnes, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos. Politico reported in May 2019 that the Trump campaign was considering creating an account for Trump on the website. Matze told Reuters he was going to attend.
Kirk runs Turning Point USA, a conservative advocacy group. The group keeps a list of college professors who it says discriminate against students with conservative views. Kirk told the Washington Post he planned to attend.
This is an alias for a Twitter user, a self-described “Eternally Sarcastic Memesmith specializing in the creation of memes to support President Donald J. Trump.” This user is accused of doctoring videos, some of which have been retweeted by Trump. Donktum said on July 2 it was attending.
Fournier is the 23-year-old co-chair of Students for Trump and a frequent defender of the president on Twitter. On June 29, Fournier made a Facebook post announcing his attendance.
Others who have been invited include:
- Members of the Heritage Foundation, including Robert Bluey, vice president of communications and executive editor of The Daily Signal, a conservative news outlet published by the Heritage Foundation. The Washington Post reported Bluey's invitation.
- Christian Ziegler, the vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, who tweeted on July 7 about attending
- Will Chamberlain, publisher of conservative magazine Human Events, who tweeted about the summit on Wednesday.
- The Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, whose attendance was reported by the Wall Street Journal
- Dennis Prager, head of Prager University, a conservative video outlet. The Washington Post reported his group's invitation.
- Brent Bozell, the founder of Media Research Center, a think tank which has alleged bias against conservatives in the media. The Washington Post reported his invitation.
- Ali Alexander, who previously went by Ali Akbar, a right-wing personality, who promoted a smear campaign alleging Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was not African American. Akbar tweeted on Wednesday to confirm he was asked to "bring info on deplatformed citizens" to the summit.
- Benny Johnson, the Turning Point USA chief creative officer, and a former BuzzFeed editor. Johnson posted on Instagram to confirm his attendance.
- Tim Pool, an independent video journalist. Pool posted a YouTube video on July 9 to announce he was attending.