Donald Trump is America’s first true social media president, so it was only natural that he would convene the first-ever social media summit at the White House. I was honored to attend Thursday.
With few details made public before the event, many national news outlets sharply criticized the meeting – just as you might expect virulent anti-Trump journalists would.
CNN warned that “right-wing extremists” would invade the White House. The New York Times labeled attendees at the summit “right-wing social media trolls.” Vanity Fair even dubbed it a “troll convention.” And NBC News accused participants of “spreading false information.”
But those so-called journalists were the ones spreading fake news. Why? Because their power is threatened by social media’s reach and influence. Social media empower Americans to bypass these traditional gatekeepers with a few taps on a smartphone.
As Trump told us at the summit: “You communicate directly with our citizens without having to go through the fake news filter. It’s very simple. Together, you reach more people than any television broadcast network, by far. It’s not even close.”
Amazingly, attendees at the social media summit – through their personal accounts and organizations – reach more than 500 million people around the world. That’s an astonishing number and one of the reasons I’m glad Trump struck a celebratory tone at the summit.
The overwhelming majority of summit participants – about 250 digital leaders, social media influencers, and members of Congress – aren’t trolls and certainly aren’t extremists. But branding us as such serves a purpose: to undermine our credibility.
What I saw at the social media summit were freedom-loving Americans who believe deeply in the principles articulated in the First Amendment.
There’s no question that some attendees push the limits and engage in behavior I don’t support. But they’re doing something truly American – exercising their free speech. And they’re doing it through the transformative power of social media.
No one has benefited more from social media than Trump himself. His use of Twitter allows him to communicate directly with the American people, bypassing hostile journalists who put their own spin on it. He’s been able to wrest control away from the mainstream media with a single tweet.
“We hardly do press releases anymore,” Trump said, explaining his communications style. “People don’t pick it up. It’s me, same. If I put it out on social media, it’s like an explosion.”
Although Twitter gets most of the attention, Trump and conservatives are also having success on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, where increasing numbers of Americans get their news and information.
This is why concerns about bias and censorship from those who run the tech giants are so important and worrisome.
At the Heritage Foundation, where I serve as vice president for communications and executive editor of The Daily Signal, we have sometimes found our content removed by social media companies. Fortunately, we successfully used market pressure to reverse those poor decisions.
Last year, for example, Facebook removed a Daily Signal video of a pediatrician warning about the dangers of puberty blockers for children. The video skyrocketed to 70 million views at a staggering pace. Then suddenly it was gone – disappeared entirely from our Facebook Watch page.
We were outraged and let Facebook know this was unacceptable. It was thanks to the pressure we applied to Facebook that the video was eventually restored – with an apology.
More recently, a Heritage Foundation employee was suspended from Twitter for allegedly engaging in “hateful conduct” by using a pronoun the company considered “misgendering.”
The accusation was absurd, and several news organizations pointed out the ridiculousness of the situation. As public pressure mounted on Twitter to reverse its decision, Twitter restored the account and apologized to the user it suspended.
There are numerous other examples of social media companies responding to market pressure to change their practices and reverse their decisions. Notably, these companies have hired conservatives to address their shortcomings and respond to such concerns.
Still, many users remain frustrated with their own experiences and the incredible power of left-leaning Silicon Valley to control their ability to communicate.
There are better alternatives than government to address these challenges. Everyone who cares about free speech, regardless of their political beliefs, should want social media companies to be responsive to their users, not government. And conservatives especially should be fearful of heavy-handed regulation as a solution to their concerns.
Trump promised to bring the social media companies to Washington for a follow-up meeting in the next month where he would push for “more transparency, more accountability, and more freedom.”
That meeting will serve as a good opportunity to debate the challenges, but it should also be a time to celebrate the success of social media. After all, despite the allegations of bias and censorship, conservatives are still dominating and Trump is leading the way.
Most importantly, the president has given us an opportunity to recommit ourselves to free speech. That’s a principle that all Americans – and all social media companies – should embrace.
This piece originally appeared in Fox News