WASHINGTON—President Trump used a “Social Media Summit” at the White House Thursday to bond with some of his most provocative supporters over shared grievances against large technology companies whose representatives weren’t invited.
Mr. Trump attacked social-media companies he says are trying to silence individuals and groups with right-leaning views, without presenting specific evidence. He said he was directing his administration to “explore all legislative and regulatory solutions to protect free speech and the free speech of all Americans.”
“Big Tech must not censor the voices of the American people,” Mr. Trump told a crowd of more than 100 allies who cheered him on. “This new technology is so important and it has to be used fairly.”
Inc., owner of Google and YouTube, weren’t invited to Thursday’s event and have declined to discuss it. The platforms have previously denied political bias plays a role in how they oversee content. Mr. Trump promised to host social-media companies at the White House during the next month.
The guest list for Thursday’s summit included Sebastian Gorka, a terrorism commentator and former White House adviser who left the administration after clashing with other national-security officials; James O’Keefe, the founder of the Project Veritas media group known for surreptitiously videotaping journalists; and Ali Alexander, an activist who recently said that Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) isn’t “an American black.”
Mr. Trump thanked the crowd for “bypassing the corrupt establishment” and traditional media. Referring to social media bans or censored content, Mr. Trump said: “Some of you, I could almost understand” the need to restrict their posts, Mr. Trump said. “Some of you guys are out there…I mean, it’s genius, but it’s bad.”
Other guests at the invitation-only event included Donald Trump Jr., cabinet members, Republican members of Congress, conservative groups and social-media provocateurs. At times, it had the feel of a Trump rally, with the president joking and riffing on a range of topics including trade with China, his treatment by national media and his Israeli policy. Only Mr. Trump’s remarks were open to the media.
Mr. Trump stepped offstage to hug Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, the social-media duo known as Diamond & Silk, who are Trump supporters and have a large Facebook following.
He also asked the crowd to applaud Mr. O’Keefe.
Ms. Hardaway and Ms. Richardson spoke at the event along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.).
Mr. Trump acknowledged that social media had enabled him and others in the room to gain large followings, and signaled he understood that some pro-Trump content could cross a line.
The Internet Association, a trade group representing social-media and other internet companies, said in a statement ahead of Thursday’s event that its members have no incentive to be biased.
“Internet companies are not biased against any political ideology, and conservative voices in particular have used social media to great effect,” the group said in a statement. “Internet companies depend upon their users’ trust from across the political spectrum to grow and succeed.”
Several analysts doubted any concrete action would come of the summit, seeing it more as a way for Mr. Trump to fire up his base. A 1996 law protects internet services that host third-party speech from liability for content, and proposals to remove that protection are unlikely to win support in Congress soon.
Mr. Trump “can’t do much” to change the way social-media platforms operate, said Sam McGowan, an analyst at Beacon Policy Advisers, a research firm based in Washington, told The Wall Street Journal this week.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), who spoke at the summit, said in an interview that she had announced a Senate Judiciary Committee task force examining privacy, data security, censorship and antitrust issues.
Before the event, Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) criticized it as political theater, saying Mr. Trump’s time would be better spent addressing “real challenges we face regarding social media” such as political advertising and data collection practices, he wrote on Twitter.
During the summit, Twitter experienced a brief service outage. “The outage was due to an internal configuration change, which we’re now fixing,” Twitter said on its website. The company declined to comment when asked if there might be a connection between the summit and the outage.
Before reporters entered the room, Mr. McCarthy told the crowd about the outage, according to one attendee, and the audience booed.
—Sarah E. Needleman contributed to this article.
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