White House Hosts a Meeting for Pro-Trump Twitter Warriors

WASHINGTON — The day of a planned White House social media summit was off to an energetic start on Thursday, when President Trump blasted out a round of Twitter insults against his enemies, defended the Pledge of Allegiance, called himself “great looking and smart” and announced an afternoon Rose Garden news conference on his administration’s battle to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — all before 8 o’clock in the morning.

“A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies,” Mr. Trump said, referring to platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter. “The Fake News is not as important, or as powerful, as Social Media.”

The morning Twitter messages allowed Mr. Trump to kick off an event that will gather a group of supporters who have grown from fringe lurkers in the internet’s backwaters to significant disrupters — largely thanks to Mr. Trump’s attentions — and who think they are being discriminated against for their conservative views. The guest list has alarmed critics who fear it is bringing together people who disseminate threats, hate speech and actual fake news, and who sometimes have their messages elevated with the velocity of a presidential tweet.

At first glance, the guest list sounds like a 4Chan message board come to life.

[The event illuminates the influence of pro-Trump trolls in the political establishment, our technology columnist writes.]

James O’Keefe, who captures secret recordings to embarrass liberals and journalists and who has received donations from the Trump Foundation, will attend. So will Ali Alexander, whose tweet questioning Senator Kamala Harris’s racial background was shared by the president’s eldest son after Ms. Harris, Democrat of California, spoke about race during the first 2020 presidential debate.

And so will a supporter who goes by the moniker “Carpe Donktum.” His credentials include creating a doctored video that appeared to show former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. massaging his own shoulders while addressing accusations that he had inappropriately touched women. That video was shared by the president.

(Some semblance of crowd control belatedly kicked in: Ben Garrison, a pro-Trump cartoonist, was initially invited but will not be attending after critics accused him of drawing an anti-Semitic cartoon.)

Other guests, like Charlie Kirk, the 25-year-old founder of Turning Point USA, a group that reaches out to young conservatives, said he represented a “center right” view, wants the president to explore helping supporters who say their content has been blocked — and stripped of potential advertising revenue — by social media platforms. Mr. Kirk and members of his organization have been criticized by the Southern Poverty Law Center for tweets that contained anti-immigrant or racist views.

“I think it’s a win for this country that the forum is happening,” Mr. Kirk said in an interview. “It definitely is a listening session for the administration to be able to gather facts and data.”

Mr. Trump is seeking proof that he and his supporters have been marginalized on social media. The president has crusaded for months against what he and his closest advisers believe is a concerted effort to muffle conservative voices. Last August, after the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was largely barred from Facebook, Apple and Google, he ramped up his critiques.

“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent.”

“They are controlling what we can & cannot see,” he added. “This is a very serious situation — will be addressed!”

Those claims mirror efforts by conservatives in Congress who have summoned Twitter, Facebook and Google executives to grill them on how their algorithms could be used to hide deliberate efforts to suppress conservative voices.

Indeed, the event is just as notable because of those who will not be there: Representatives from Facebook did not receive an invitation, according to a spokesman, and representatives from Twitter and Google are not expected to appear.

Most of the activists attending represent — and spend their time transmitting — a larger theory of suppression and bias against conservatives. In May, the White House unveiled a website that asked users to share evidence of discrimination, along with their citizenship status and contact details. That information was used to organize Thursday’s gathering.

“Earlier this year, the White House launched a tool to allow Americans, regardless of their political views, to share how they have been affected by bias online,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in an email. “After receiving thousands of responses, the president wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media.”

Advocacy groups that say their clients have faced discrimination online accused the Trump administration of promoting hate. Madihha Ahussain, a lawyer with Muslim Advocates, a nonprofit legal and advocacy organization, described the summit as a ruse.

“Enforcing basic standards of decency on social media isn’t censoring conservative speech,” Ms. Ahussain said in a statement. “Hate speech is hate speech, regardless of whether the person spewing it has met with the president.

She added, “We urge social media platforms to ignore the circus at the White House and instead commit to enforcing their hate-content policies objectively and forcefully.”

Mr. Kirk, of Turning Point USA, said the event process reminded him of a listening session Mr. Trump held this year with conservative college students. The result was an executive order meant to protect free speech on college campuses. Mr. Kirk said he did not necessarily expect the same outcome, but believed Mr. Trump might consider his options.

“I think that’s a positive thing that the president is hearing new ideas and entertaining difference of opinion” and seeing if he could use his power to tackle conservatives’ complaints, Mr. Kirk said.

Also scheduled to attend is Brad Parscale, the president’s 2020 campaign manager. Mr. Parscale oversaw digital strategy for Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, which relied heavily on buying ads on Facebook. Since then, Mr. Parscale has been vocal in his criticism of Facebook, Google and Twitter, accusing them of blacklisting conservatives.

“At a time when social media platforms are banning conservative voices and supporters of the president,” Mr. Parscale said in a message on Tuesday, “it’s important for President Trump to emphasize that he appreciates their support and wants to protect their First Amendment rights.”

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