The White House will host top tech companies to discuss the rise of violent online extremism on Friday, marking the Trump administration’s first major engagement on the issue days after a mass shooting in Texas left 22 people dead.
The gathering will include “senior administration officials along with representatives of a range of companies,” deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement. He did not name which companies would attend.
The White House effort follows an attack this weekend in El Paso that was announced on the anonymous message board 8chan in a manifesto decrying the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” It was the third mass shooting this year that began with the posting of a gunman’s hateful screed on the site, which is currently offline following moves by two Internet-services firms.
In response, Trump on Monday took aim at social media broadly, tasking the Justice Department to “work in partnership with local state and federal agencies, as well as social media companies, to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike,” he said in a speech.
On Wednesday, Trump pledged again to “do something about” online hate, telling reporters he is “concerned for any group of hate, I don’t like it … whether it’s white supremacy or any other kind of supremacy."
But Trump maintained his own rhetoric — including attacks on his political foes, immigrants and other groups — played no role in coarsening conversation online and spawning violence.
“I don’t think my rhetoric does at all — I think my rhetoric brings people together,” Trump said.
Facebook, Google, Reddit and 8chan did not respond to a request for comment. Twitter declined to comment. It is unclear if Trump personally will attend, but the president currently is scheduled to headline two fundraisers in the Hamptons on Friday.
For years, some of Trump’s top critics have urged him to focus more federal resources on combating the rise of online extremism, pointing to a series of shootings in the United States and around the world that appeared motivated by racial or ethnic animus online.
Instead, the president has focused his attention on the supposed political leanings of the tech giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter, arguing that their policies to review and remove troubling content unfairly result in the censorship of conservatives.
In July, Trump even hosted a “social media summit” to explore allegations of political bias while rallying some of his foremost online allies — a gathering that included some of the individuals who’ve been criticized for inflammatory posts, videos and other content. The president himself has faced immense criticism for some of his tweets, including recent attacks on four Democratic lawmakers in which he told them to “go back” to their home countries. Three of the congresswomen were born in the United States and the fourth became an American citizen as a teenager.
Trump this week did not discuss gun-control legislation or mention 8chan or other hate sites by name. But he has partially blamed the attacks on the nation’s mental-health system and the rise of violent video games.
The president made similar arguments after a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018. At the time, Trump convened executives from top video gaming companies at a White House event, where he showed a montage of violent clips from popular games.
The House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday also said it planned to hold hearings on “the very real and persistent threat from domestic terrorism.”
The committee also has requested that 8chan owner Jim Watkins, an American Web entrepreneur living in the Philippines, testify before lawmakers on how the company was responding to the proliferation of white-supremacist and other extremist content on the site.