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White House Prepares for Social Media Summit Amid Criticism of Facebook, Google and Twitter


White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino, left, and President Donald Trump's Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, right, walk across the South Lawn as they arrive at the White House, in Washington, Sunday, June 30, 2019, with President Donald Trump…

A who's who of conservative groups are heading to the White House to discuss how to deal with reports and stories from Social Media.

But Twitter and Facebook themselves won’t be there. They reportedly haven’t been invited.

Few details are available about the White House summit, which will take place on July 11. But the event comes amid wide-ranging criticisms of the companies.

Some argue the social media companies are silencing conservative voices. Others say they aren’t doing enough to protect users from misinformation and offensive posts.

One area of agreement — the tech firms are powerful and control important conduits of information and commerce. There is mounting antitrust scrutiny and calls for looking into whether they should be broken up somehow.

Alleged bias against conservative voices

U.S. President Donald Trump has increasingly criticized the three big social media firms — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — for censorship and bias against conservative voices.

In May, the White House asked people to submit stories to a site detailing their experiences.

The site is now closed, but a message remains telling visitors that “social media platforms should advance freedom of speech. Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies.”

The summit is for "digital leaders” interested in “a robust conversation on the opportunities and challenges of today's online environment,” the White House said when it announced the event.

Conservative pundits, leaders invited

While the guest list hasn’t been released, people reportedly invited includes Florida Republican Party Vice Chair Christian Ziegler and people from conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and Turning Point USA.

It is important for people to learn about how social media sites moderate content, said Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization.

The social media companies are “not getting it right” and are taking down speech that they shouldn’t, she said. But the Trump administration’s assessment of conservative bias isn’t right either, she added.

“The default should be to leave content up,” she said. “Take down should be reserved for truly dangerous circumstances.”

Clara Tsao, a fellow at Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, said under U.S. law, providers of "interactive computer services" are allowed to exclude people from their online communities, to protect an online provider’s content-screening and editorial decisions and to provide standards of decency. “It's a tricky problem,” she said. “There is a misunderstanding about how content moderation occurs.”

‘Quarantining’ speech

The social media firms themselves continue to roll out changes to their services to reduce fake accounts and in some cases, make it harder to see posts that some have been deemed untrue or offensive.

This week, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, announced changes to crack down on bullying.

Recently, Reddit “quarantined” a discussion group on its site because of a threat of violence. Users see a warning now before accessing the group.

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