The Interface

By Casey Newton

The White House social media summit is here (sorry)



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July 10 · Issue #355 · View online
The Interface
With questions swirling about the growing size and influence of social networks, the president is determined to get some answers. And so in a bid to resolve the many outstanding concerns about the role of platforms in society, the Trump Administration on Thursday has organized a “social media summit” most notable for not inviting representatives for any of those platforms.
The summit has been peopled instead with meme makers, founders of alternative social networks, and conservative activists. The guest list is so far removed from a pre-Trump era White House policy summit that even those invited weren’t quite sure the invitation was real. Here’s Elizabeth Culliford reporting for Reuters:
When conservative meme-maker Carpe Donktum got an invitation to a White House summit, he thought the email might be spam.
“I asked around because I wasn’t sure if it was a mass marketing thing,” said the stay-at-home dad who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, declining to give his real name for fear of harassment against his family.
Of course, just because Facebook and Twitter aren’t invited doesn’t mean that no social network will be in attendance. For example, the summit will reportedly include the CEO of, which, um … someone remind me which one is?
A previous Motherboard investigation found that militant neo-Nazi groups connected to Atomwaffen Division—a violent American hate group connected to several murders—was using Minds as a platform for recruiting and spreading propaganda. Minds eventually banned the accounts when Motherboard showed them to the platform, but the company’s lax content moderation allowed them to proliferate unchecked for months.
Hmmm, this is starting to sound like a pretty grim affair. Who else is coming? Save us, Oliver Darcy!
Other eyebrow-raising attendees include James O'Keefe, the guerrilla journalist whose group Project Veritas tried to trick reporters at the Washington Post by planting a source who told the paper that she had been impregnated as a teenager by failed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore; Charlie Kirk, the founder of the right-wing student group Turning Point USA who sometimes posts misleading information on social media; and Benny Johnson, the journalist-turned-activist who was fired for plagiarism by BuzzFeed and demoted at the Independent Journal Review for violating company standards.
Hoo boy.
What is the point of all this, exactly? Tony Romm, Michael Scherer, and Amy B. Wang offer an idea in the Washington Post:
In a statement, White House spokesman Judd Deere said the administration opted to convene the event after hearing from “thousands” of Americans across the political spectrum that they had been affected by bias online. He said Trump “wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media,” but he declined to provide a full list of attendees.
In recent months, Trump has intensified his attacks on Facebook, Google and Twitter for allegedly limiting his online reach, often citing disputed evidence in making his claims about bias. During a recent interview on Fox Business, the president even charged that Google seeks to rig the upcoming election. Twitter said any variation in Trump’s follower count is the result of the company’s efforts to delete automated accounts known as bots.
They go on to quote Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, who is scheduled to attend: “The president is taking the lead here. He’s really standing up for all Americans and making sure that conservatives aren’t silenced.” 
Kevin Roose, who calls the event “a West Wing pity party,” offers a more plausible reason for the event: whipping up enthusiasm among conservative meme lords ahead of the 2020 election.
Mr. Trump may also be betting that the success of his 2020 re-election bid will hinge, at least in part, on the enthusiasm of his highest-profile internet supporters. In 2016, a “meme army” rose from the depths of 4chan and Reddit to support Mr. Trump’s candidacy by turning out a steady stream of pro-Trump images, videos and animation — the best of which were often shared by Mr. Trump and his inner circle on social media. Since his election, Mr. Trump has continued to look to his internet supporters as a kind of crowdsourced media consultancy, from which he draws slogans, video mash-ups and “Game of Thrones”-inspired memes.
“I think the White House social media summit is an opportunity to say thank you for the community that has been at the president’s side these last three years and enlist their help in the fights to come,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist.
One thing no one seems to expect from the social media summit is evidence of systematic bias against conservatives from the platforms. (Because there isn’t any.) But at the risk of being a party pooper, here are some facts from NewsWhip and Axios on the subject. In short: articles about Democratic candidates written by conservative partisans are getting much more engagement on social platforms than articles written by the mainstream media.
Here’s Neal Rothschild on the new data, which covers campaign reporting over the past two weeks:
This tracker looks at all the attention 2020 Democrats are generating from stories on social media, but many of the most viral pieces are actually being published by conservative media, according to data from NewsWhip exclusively provided to Axios.
Why it matters: The stories drive at wedge issues like immigration, redistributive policies and the culture war du jour, painting the Democratic candidates as radical leftists and serving as a testing ground for attacks from President Trump.
Four of the five most popular stories about Kamala Harris in the past two weeks came from Fox News, Breitbart, and the Federalist Papers. Highly engaged stories about Cory Booker, Julián Castro, and Bernie Sanders similarly came from a handful of big conservative sites.
Of course, conservative complaints about social networks have generally focused on the experiences of their individual accounts, rather than on the performance of conservative media generally. The grievances likely to be discussed tomorrow will likely focus on temporary suspensions, some accidental; not appearing high enough in search results, or at all; and not being included in various algorithmic recommendations.
But while they fume theatrically for the television cameras tomorrow, the same algorithms they denounce will continue to recruit new viewers, followers, and donors on their behalf. The fact remains that despite the liberal leanings of many tech workers, social platforms have been an unqualified boon to the conservative movement — a fact that Republican lawmakers are curiously loath to admit. You might even say they’ve been silenced.

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The Fight for the Future of YouTube
YouTube’s Cleanup Efforts Are Driving Business Opportunities for Creators, Says Product Chief Neal Mohan
Google’s 4,000-Word Privacy Policy Is a Secret History of the Internet
We Analyzed More Than 1 Million Comments on 4chan. Hate Speech There Has Spiked by 40% Since 2015.
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Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others
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Libra and Financial Inclusion
Instagram’s new anti-bullying features: comment warnings and restricted accounts
And finally ...
Why Kevin Smith’s Infamous Wife Tweet Is Still Breaking Brains — 10 Years Later
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