President Trump on Tuesday met privately with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, a huddle at the White House between one of the site’s most prolific users and an executive who’s faced criticism for the way Twitter has handled the president’s tweets.
The meeting came as Trump continues to attack the tech industry, threatening to regulate Facebook, Google and Twitter out of concern that they censor conservatives online — an allegation those companies fiercely deny. The president’s latest salvo arrived just hours before he met with Dorsey: Trump accused Twitter of playing “political games" and tampering with his nearly 60 million followers.
A significant portion of the meeting focused on Trump’s concerns that Twitter quietly, and deliberately, has limited or removed some of his followers, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversation who requested anonymity because it was private. Trump said he had heard from fellow conservatives who had lost followers for unclear reasons as well.
But Twitter long has explained that follower figures fluctuate as the company takes action to remove fraudulent spam accounts. In the meeting, Dorsey stressed that point, noting even he had lost followers as part of Twitter’s work to enforce its policies, according to the source, who described the meeting as cordial.
Asked about the meeting, the White House did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Twitter said the meeting — initiated by the president — focused on “protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections and efforts underway to respond to the opioid crisis.” Twitter partners with the federal government on a program to encourage Americans to dispose of prescription drugs they no longer need to prevent against abuse.
In March, Trump accused Silicon Valley’s largest companies of harboring a “hatred" for "a certain group of people that happen to be in power, that happen to have won the election.” In doing so, Trump threatened potential regulation, telling reporters at a press conference that the government may “have to do something about it.”
Previously, Trump joined a chorus of Republicans in claiming that Twitter secretly limits the reach of conservatives, a tactic known as “shadow banning” that Twitter has vehemently denied. And the president regularly has raised fears about changes in his follower count. Twitter’s heightened crackdown against spam, however, long has affected both liberals and conservatives on the site.
In response, Twitter regularly has stressed its political neutrality. “Impartiality is our guiding principle,” Dorsey told lawmakers last year who grilled him over allegations that the site and its social-media peers exhibit bias against conservatives. Over the past year, Dorsey has sought to huddle with high-profile right-leaning pundits and political figures, hoping to assuage their concerns about censorship.
Those gatherings sparked unrest among some of Twitter’s employees, many of whom reside in liberal-leaning San Francisco. Ahead of Dorsey’s visit to the White House, though, the Twitter executive stressed to workers his belief that “conversation, not silence, bridges gaps and drives towards solutions.”
“Some of you will be very supportive of our meeting the president, and some of you might feel we shouldn’t take this meeting at all,” Dorsey said in an e-mail obtained by the Post. “In the end, I believe it’s important to meet heads of state in order to listen, share our principles and our ideas.” The tech publication Motherboard first obtained a copy of Dorsey’s note.
Dorsey long has faced pressure to curtail Trump’s tweets, as critics contend that the president regularly violates the site’s policies against harassment and abuse. Twitter has long maintained that it applies a different standard to prominent public figures, given that their comments — even offensive ones — remain in the public interest. But the company in March said it soon would adopt a new approach, labeling offensive tweets so users know why such content hasn’t been removed.
“How can we put some context around it so people are aware that that content is actually a violation of our rules and it is serving a particular purpose in remaining on the platform," Vijaya Gadde, the company’s head of legal, policy, and trust and safety, said at an event hosted by the Post.