US President Trump has blamed big tech firms for gagging conservative voices at a summit of far-right online figures. At the same time, he applauded internet provocateurs for their "bad" social media behavior.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday used a White House meeting of far-right social media provocateurs to once more criticize big tech firms such as Twitter and Facebook for what he sees as their unfair treatment of conservative voices.
"We're not going to be silenced," Trump said. "Big tech must not censor the voices."
The US president has frequently claimed — without evidence — that major internet companies, including his favored communications outlet, Twitter, are biased against him, even suggesting that US regulators should sue them for anti-conservative leanings.
He announced on Thursday that his administration would explore "all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech and the free-speech rights of all Americans."
'Genius, but bad'
At the same time, Trump praised his guests at the "social media summit" — who did not include representatives of big tech firms — for their often extreme online behavior, while admitting that their presentations sometimes crossed the lines of accepted protocol.
"Some of you guys are out there — but even you should have a voice," he said. "The crap you think of is unbelievable. I mean it's genius — but it's bad."
Trump said such presentations were a way of getting around what he claims is misinformation spread by mainstream media.
"You're challenging the media gatekeepers and corporate censors to bring the truth to the American people. ... You communicate directly with our citizens without going through the fake news filter," he said.
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Trump's claim that mainstream social media platforms have employed tactics to censor conservative political views has yet to be borne out by concrete evidence, and the companies themselves have denied any anti-conservative bias. His criticism also seems at odds with his frequent and outspoken use of Twitter.
"Internet companies are not biased against any political ideology, and conservative voices, in particular, have used social media to great effect," the Internet Association, which represents Facebook, Google and dozens of other companies, said in a statement on Thursday.
David Cicilline of Trump's own Republicans, who heads a House Judiciary subcommittee investigating the tech giants' market conduct, has also said he had found no evidence of their anti-conservative bias.
"I've never seen evidence of tech firm bias against conservatives," he said in a statement on Wednesday. "If someone wants to show me some empirical data, instead of some alt-right member's paranoid claims, I'd appreciate it."
Although any censorship of mainstream conservative views has yet to be established, the big tech companies have been under recent pressure to ensure that their platforms are not used to disseminate extremist content. Twitter has banned hate speech targeting someone's race, gender and other categories, while Facebook has banned extremist figures such as Alex Jones of the conspiracy theory and fake news website Infowars and Louis Farrakhan of the African-American political and religious movement Nation of Islam.
tj/ng (AP, Reuters)