President Trump rips tech firms at ‘free speech’ summit

Published: Updated:

President Donald Trump told prominent conservative social media figures on Thursday at a White House forum that he is being treated unfairly by big tech firms which he says suppress conservative voices.

“We’re not going to be silenced,” Trump said, without offering evidence. “Big tech must not censor the voices.”

Dozens of pro-Trump online personalities convened at what the White House billed as a gathering of “digital leaders” where invitees discussed what they say is censorship on social media platforms.

Still Trump appeared to acknowledge questions about the online behavior of some conservative users of social media.

“Some of you guys are out there -- but even you should have a voice,” Trump said.

Trump - who frequently uses Twitter to promote his message - also said he planned to call major social media firms to the White House in the coming weeks and said he could invite some of the conservative social media users to those meetings.

Trump also said he was directing his administration to “explore all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech and the free speech rights of all Americans” without elaborating.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, said that instead of focusing on “combatting 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, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google declined to comment on Trump’s announcement that he would call them to the White House to a meeting, but three tech officials said they had no knowledge of the meeting before Trump announced it.

Trump lashed out in a Twitter post earlier 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.

The Internet Association, a trade group representing major tech firms like Facebook, Twitter and Google, said “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.

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.