Concern about the impact of social media giants is something that is garnering a lot of attention these days. Discussions about the need to regulate them are taking place on both the right and the left. But that is where the similarities end, because the issues that are being identified and the goals of regulation couldn’t be more divergent.
For several years now the Washington Monthly has focused attention on the need to enforce anti-trust regulations on our monopolized economy—including tech giants like Facebook. That issue has now been taken up by presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.
In addition to fighting corporate monopolies, Democrats have raised concerns about privacy on social media and the ways that foreign governments, like Russia, have infected our political discourse via use of their platforms.
Donald Trump also complains about social media a lot. At times, his verbiage can sound like he agrees with Democrats on the need to break up the monopolies enjoyed by the big tech giants. But it is important to recognize that his agenda is actually very different. As is always the case with the president, his goals are to silence free speech by punishing anyone who doesn’t feed the bottomless pit of his ego. Take a look at how he uses the concerns about social media monopolies to further that agenda.
The president has accused Google, Facebook and Twitter of being biased against him and other conservatives — a charge the companies have repeatedly denied.
“Look, we should be suing Google and Facebook and all that, which, perhaps we will,” Trump said during a phone interview on Fox Business.
Trump has suggested the internet companies may run afoul of federal antitrust laws and floated possible enforcement action against them. Earlier this month, he suggested U.S. regulators should levy massive fines against the tech giants, saying “obviously there is something going on in terms of monopoly” in the sector.
The president in his Fox interview also swiped at Twitter, claiming without evidence that “they make it very hard” for people to follow his personal account and for him to “get out the message.” Trump is a prolific tweeter, frequently using the platform to bash his political opponents and disseminate his message.
When social media giants started banning people who use their platforms to spread hate and incite violence, the president responded by complaining that their actions violated free speech and set up an online form for users to complain about “tech bias.”
On Thursday, the White House will host a social media summit that has been described as an effort to bring together “digital leaders for a robust conversation on the opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.” But a funny thing happened along the way. Based on the invitations that were sent out, the so-called “digital leaders” don’t include companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Instead, the “robust conversation” will happen among a group that includes people along the spectrum from right-wing to extremists. Alex Kaplan rounded up the list of invitees.
Individuals and organizations that have said they were invited to the summit or have been confirmed to attend include conservative radio host Bill Mitchell, a right-wing meme maker known online as Carpe Donktum, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, right-wing propaganda YouTube channel Prager University, pro-Trump cartoonist Ben Garrison, Human Events publisher Will Chamberlain, Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell, conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, Students for Trump co-founder Ryan Fournier, right-wing personality Ali Akbar (also known as Ali Alexander), discredited “citizen journalist” James O’Keefe, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
Apparently the inclusion of an anti-semitic alt-right cartoonist was too over the top for even this White House, so Ben Garrison has been uninvited.
Some of the names on that list might not be familiar to people who live in the reality-based community. But to give you just one example, here is what Kaplan wrote about radio host Bill Mitchell.
Mitchell has regularly used his radio show and Twitter account to boost and legitimize “Q,” the central figure of the “QAnon” conspiracy theory, sometimes hosting major QAnon believers. Mitchell claimed on his show, “What Q is trying to do is motivate and encourage the base” by opposing media coverage that is critical of Trump…
Mitchell helped spread a debunked hoax created by right-wing trolls Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman targeting South Bend, IN, Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg…
Last October, Mitchell tweeted that billionaire philanthropist George Soros was “guilty of seditious conspiracy against the United States” and questioned what would happen “if we threw Soros in prison and seized his assets as an enemy of the United States.”
That is someone this White House considers to be a “digital leader” that they want to engage in a “robust conversation” about today’s media environment.
The truth is that not much is likely to come from this summit. It is actually a campaign event meant to signal that the president aligns himself with those who spread anti-semitism, white supremacy, and conspiracy theories via social media. The only monopoly he wants to challenge is the resistance in this country to those who spread fear and hate.