Trump meets conservatives at ‘free speech’ social media summit


WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – President Donald Trump met with prominent conservative social media figures on Thursday at a White House forum where he is set to reiterate frustrations with big tech firms for allegedly suppressing conservative voices.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a “social media summit” meeting with prominent conservative social media figures in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Pro-Trump online personalities got together at what the White House billed as a gathering of “digital leaders” where invitees expect to discuss what they say is censorship on social media platforms.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, said he was attending the event. “We must do everything in our power to protect free speech, defend our data and #STopthebias” he wrote on Twitter before the event.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, said that instead of focusing on “combating Russian social media misinformation, punishing anti-competitive practices, or protecting Americans’ data and privacy, the President has invited trolls, conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, and the whole comments section to the White House.”

Facebook Inc (FB.O) said it had not been invited while Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) and Reddit declined to comment. Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump, a frequent tweeter, lashed out in a Twitter post before the event on Thursday at some social media companies and traditional news firms, saying, “The Fake News is not as important, or as powerful, as Social Media” and criticizing what he said was unfairness by some firms.

“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 wrote. “We will not let them get away with it much longer.”

The Internet Association, a trade group representing major tech firms like Facebook, Twitter and Google, said Thursday “internet companies are not biased against any political ideology, and conservative voices in particular have used social media to great effect.”

UNITE CONSERVATIVES

Carpe Donktum, a pro-Trump online persona who was recently suspended by Twitter for eight days over a video depicting Trump as a cowboy attacking CNN journalist Jim Acosta, said the face-to-face event could unite online conservatives.

Invitees said they had received little information about the event but in a statement to Reuters, the White House positioned it as follow-up to an online survey launched by the administration in May for people to report “suspected political bias” on social media.

“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.

Republicans in Congress have held numerous hearings on the issue of alleged conservative bias on social media outlets. A Senate panel chaired by Republican Ted Cruz on Tuesday will hold a hearing titled “Google and Censorship through Search Engines” featuring Google’s vice president of public policy Karan Bhatia.

The White House spokesman said about 130 people would attend, without providing a guest list. Trump was due to deliver remarks on Thursday afternoon after the event.

Trump made social media a key part of his 2016 presidential campaign but he and other Republicans have long claimed that online platforms employ tactics to silence their voices, allegations that major social media companies have denied.

When Trump, who has more than 61 million Twitter followers, met with the site’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, in April, he spent significant time asking why he had lost followers, a source told Reuters.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell

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