President Trump has a bone to pick with Twitter.
On Thursday, Trump hosted a “Social Media Summit” with some of the most influential people in the conservative and right-wing media. Attendees included the Claremont Institute think tank, the media company Prager University, the Media Research Center, the Heritage Foundation, Bill Mitchell — a radio host who has tweeted about the QAnon conspiracy theory — and at least one alt-right activist who said Senator Kamala Harris is not “American Black.” (Facebook, Google and Twitter were not invited.) There were, however, some charged exchanges between the social-media group and the traditional media there to cover Trump’s speech in the Rose Garden.
President Trump’s relationship with the traditional media has been acrimonious from the moment he embarked on his campaign for president, and he has criticized social-media companies for deleting right-wing accounts.
Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to Trump, and Brian Karem, a correspondent for Playboy, traded heated words. Karem told the conservative social-media attendees, “This is a group of people who are eager for demonic possession,” according to a video of the scene. “And you’re a journalist, right?” Gorka responded. The two men appeared to get close to a scuffle. Karem replied, “Come on over here and talk to me, brother. Or we can go outside and have a long conversation.” They came face to face and Gorka shouted, “You’re a punk! You’re not a journalist, you’re a punk!” Karem said, “Get a job!”
President Trump’s relationship with the traditional media has been acrimonious from the moment he embarked on his campaign for president, and he has criticized social-media companies for deleting right-wing accounts. Since then he has not only labeled as “fake news” outlets that have reported critically on his administration, but he has also described CNN
and The New York Times
as “the enemy of the American people.”
Social media doesn’t help people differentiate what is real from what is fake, but the term “fake news” has been used by social scientists to describe fictional articles that spread rapidly online. Trump has 61.9 million followers on Twitter. Facebook
meanwhile, struggles to stem the flow of fake news and erroneous memes, and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the world’s biggest social-media site is making progress in dealing with the problem.
‘I noticed things happening when I put out something, a good one that people like, right? A good tweet, it goes up. It used to go up. … It would be like a rocket ship when I put out a beauty.’
Trump has accused Twitter of artificially deflating his followers. “It would be like a rocket ship when I put out a beauty,” he said at the summit, referring to his follower count expanding after certain tweets. “I noticed things happening when I put out something, a good one that people like, right? A good tweet, it goes up. It used to go up, it would, say, 7,000, 7,008, 7,017, 7,024, 7,032, 7,044. Right? Now it goes: 7,000, 7,008, 6,998. Then they go, 7,009, 6,074. I said, ‘What’s going on? It never did that before.’ It goes up, and then they take it down. Then it goes up.”
(Twitter has said it does not have a policy of interfering with the amount of retweets or the “likes” a tweet receives. The company has said it’s been trying to cull the number of bots on the site.)
“A number of months ago I was at a certain number,” Trump said at the summit at the White House on Thursday. “You know, many millions, and then all of the sudden, I was down over a million, and then I came down. I said, ‘What’s going on?” He added, “I don’t have the fake people. You know, a lot of people buy people. I don’t want to do that because first of all, if I did it, it’s a front-page story all over the place. But I know a lot of people, there’s no question about it, because I see some numbers that are phony numbers.”
The president also praised Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, who introduced the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, which is aimed at auditing social-media companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter for bias. “They’ve got these special deals from government, they’ve got a special giveaway from government, they’re treated unlike anybody else,” Hawley said. “If they want to keep their special deal here’s the bargain: They have to quit discriminating against conservatives.”
The good news for the 2.38 billion people who use Facebook: Most Facebook users did not share any fake news articles during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, according to a recent study. But the small number who did were mostly Republican Americans over the age of 65. The findings suggest the need for “renewed attention” to educate “particular vulnerable individuals,” such as aging baby boomers, about fake news or misleading information that appears to resemble a fact-checked news article published by a legitimate and fact-based media outlet, researchers said.
Younger Americans who grew up with the internet, regardless of their political leanings, tend to be less overwhelmed by stories that cross their news feeds on Facebook and Twitter and more adept at spotting telltale signs of fake news.
The results showed that 90% of these users actually did not share misleading or fake articles and only 8.5% shared one or more fake news articles. A plurality, 18%, of the Facebook users who shared the fake stories were both self-identified Republicans and over the age of 65, the authors concluded, and these individuals shared nearly seven times as many fake news articles as respondents in the youngest age group, ranging in age from 18 to 29.
So why are Republican baby boomers more likely to share fake news on Facebook? One theory: As they didn’t grow up with technology, they may be more susceptible to being fooled. (Case in point: the variety of scams that have had success with older Americans by preying on their lack of familiarity with how computers work.) Younger Americans who grew up with the internet, regardless of their political leanings, tend to be less overwhelmed by stories that cross their news feeds on Facebook and Twitter
and more adept at spotting telltale signs of fake news.
Meanwhile, President Trump said he would protect the free speech of the group he convened at the White House on Thursday. “When the historians look back they are going to see something very important took place right here — before today it took place — it started taking place a number of years ago and it is something that nobody ever thought would happen. Free speech is a bedrock of American life our Constitutional rights must be forcibly protected and I want you to know that we will always have your back. We are fighting for you very hard.”