Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at social media summit

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE on Thursday denounced the world’s top social media companies as being biased against him and his supporters and pledged that his administration will be exploring “regulatory and legislative solutions” to protect free speech online.

“We have terrible bias, we have censorship like nobody has any understanding or nobody can believe,” he said.

Trump's remarks came at the White House’s controversial “social media summit," which drew about 250 attendees including top administration officials and a crowd of right-wing social media personalities. The president announced that he will be convening a meeting of the companies at the White House next week over concerns that they routinely censor right-wing perspectives.

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“We’re going to be calling a big meeting for the companies, they have to be here,” Trump said, adding that he’ll be inviting Republican and Democratic members of Congress to join. 

The White House’s escalating campaign will add to the troubles of tech companies, which have spent years denying claims of political bias as unfounded and unfair. Facebook, Twitter and Google none of which were invited to the summit, which featured ample talk of bias and the unparalleled power of Big Tech all declined to comment on the meeting.

Trump’s social media summit incited pushback and controversy even before it kicked off, as Democrats and leading tech groups greeted it with criticism and skepticism.  

The event itself featured panels and discussions followed by a long and winding speech from Trump, which came off as a campaign speech at certain points as he touted his administration’s economic and trade accomplishments. The president spent the bulk of the speech boasting about his own prolific social media following he has hundreds of millions of followers across multiple platforms and regularly takes to Twitter to break news and insult his foes.

Trump also acknowledged that social media has been a boon to him on the campaign trail and in the Oval Office, saying press releases rarely get pickup on their own but “if I put it out on social media, it’s like an explosion” and noting that he’s watched his follower count tick up. 

But Trump focused his criticism on the accusations of bias. The summit was only the latest development in an ongoing crusade from Trump and other top Republicans over allegations that companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube intentionally discriminate against them and their views.

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition GOP senator wants to know whistleblower identity if there's an impeachment trial Hillicon Valley: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks MORE (Mo.), one of the leading Republican tech critics on Capitol Hill, spoke at the summit, alluding to his bill that would require the companies to submit to audits proving they are politically unbiased in order to receive protection from tech’s legal shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“Google, Facebook, Twitter, they’ve gotten these special deals from government,” Hawley said. “They’re treated unlike anyone else. If they want to keep their special deal, here’s the bargain: they have to stop discriminating against conservatives.” 

The summit featured an array of lawmakers who railed against Big Tech, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHarris introduces bill to prevent California wildfires McCarthy says views on impeachment won't change even if Taylor's testimony is confirmed House Republicans call impeachment hearing 'boring,' dismiss Taylor testimony as hearsay MORE (R-Calif.), Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed MORE (R-Tenn.), Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawConservatives seek to stifle new 'alt-right' movement steeped in anti-Semitism Lawmakers call for extra security for anti-Erdoğan protesters  Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGaetz wants woman who threw drink at him to serve time Schiff told Gaetz to 'absent yourself' in fiery exchange: impeachment transcript Do Republicans understand the Constitution? MORE (R-Fla.). 

Blackburn at the event announced she will be leading a tech task force focused on social media censorship on the Senate Judiciary Committee, her office confirmed to The Hill.

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The summit featured two question-and-answer sessions, the first between pro-Trump activists and Fox Nation personalities Diamond and Silk, who were interviewed by White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayNBC signs Mueller 'pit bull' prosecutor Andrew Weissman as legal analyst George Conway and Trump Jr. trade personal insults during impeachment hearing Conway: Trump reacted 'pretty well' to impeachment hearing because 'there was nothing new' MORE, and the second featuring Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who was interviewed by White House chief digital officer Ory Rinat.

Diamond and Silk focused on their experiences on various platforms, while Crenshaw discussed the importance of the First Amendment.

Sources in the room said much of the event revolved around attendees' grievances with social media platforms, and was attended by a group made up primarily of conservatives and libertarians, with a few progressives in the mix.

Administration officials in attendance included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnchuin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump trade adviser pushes back on reports of US-China tariff deal China, US agree to reduce tariffs amid trade talks, Beijing says Income for poorest Americans fell faster than previously thought: study MORE.

Critics blasted the summit throughout the day over its controversial guest list, which included a conservative radio show host known for promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory and right-wing personality Ali Alexander, who recently incited a firestorm over a post in which he accused Democratic presidential contender Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisIf we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out MORE (D-Calif.) of not being an “American black.”  

Trump joked that some of the attendees were “out there,” but said even they “should have a voice.” He referred to the crowd as “online journalists and influencers.”

“You’re challenging the media gatekeepers and the corporate censors to bring the facts straight to the American people and that’s what you’re doing,” Trump said.

Trump also praised some of the attendees, who have supported his presidency on social media.

"Some of you are extraordinary. Can’t say everybody. No, but some of you are extraordinary," Trump said. "The crap you think of is unbelievable."

But civil rights groups pointed out that many of the top attendees have been accused of spreading misinformation and hate online.

“I see this summit as a propaganda tool to pressure social media companies to allow hate, racism, xenophobia and religious bigotry, homophobia, to run wild,” Jessica González, the founder of the Change the Terms coalition, which has pressured social media companies to take a stand against bigoted and extremist content online, told The Hill in a phone interview.

Media Matters, a left-wing media watchdog group, in a statement said conservative bias claims were an attempt to “game the refs.”

“If the Trump Administration wanted to hold tech companies to account they could pressure them to better protect Americans from foreign interference, misinformation, and hate speech,” Cristina López G., the deputy director for extremism at Media Matters, said in a statement. “Instead, they’ve chosen to focus on claims of supposed bias against conservatives that have no basis in fact.” 

Whether the bias claims can be substantiated or not, the summit was a clear red flag for companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook, which have been trying to navigate dueling pressures from progressives who want them to crack down on hate speech and Republicans who want them to take less action against any online speech.

Crenshaw told The Hill that he believes the companies should protect all speech except when it “incites violence directly.”

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have taken stronger actions against white supremacist and extremist content online over the past few months. 

Twitter just last week announced it would ban any speech that “dehumanizes” religious groups, saying it hopes to open that up to other protected classes in the future. Facebook recently banned a slew of controversial figures, including some on the right, they determined to be “dangerous.” And YouTube has been working to reduce the distribution of videos that spread misinformation and bigotry.

But it will be an increasingly difficult battle to wage as Trump steps up his assault on those companies.

“Big tech must not censor the voices of the American people,” Trump said.

Bill Ottman, CEO of Minds.com, said Trump at the event mentioned having interest in joining an alternative social media platform. Minds.com, a fringe social media network with over 2 million users, has been criticized for hosting extremist and neo-Nazi content; Ottman vigorously disputed that assessment on Thursday, saying the site is focused on free speech and hosts an array of viewpoints.

Speaking from a summit after-party at Trump International hotel, Ottman told The Hill that he spoke to a representative from Parler, another alternative social networking app, about how they could "collaborate" to offer an alternative option to Trump.

The president is an avid user of social media giants like Twitter, but has eyed moving over some of his content to other networks.

"We’re talking about cooperating as opposed to being at each others’ throats," Ottman said.

Updated 8:11 p.m.