White House Tech Meeting on Extremism Raises Yellow Flags

The White House was hosting a meeting with tech companies Friday (Aug. 9) to talk online extremism and violent rhetoric and images, a conclave that was prompting some warning flares around D.C., and a call to call out the President for his rhetoric.

It was unclear who was at the meeting from either side. The President was not expected to be there (he was out of town at fundraisers all day).

The meeting was prompted by recent mass shootings. In the wake of those shootings and calls for action, President Trump focused on boosting mental health and reining-in violent media, particularly video games, rather than on gun control, though background checks have entered the conversation.

Related: Study Says Violent Gamers Less Likely to Be Online Haters

“As the need to continue the fight against hateful ideologies online remains painfully apparent, the White House should not hamstring those efforts with politically motivated and likely unconstitutional executive orders about viewpoint neutrality," said CCIA President Ed Black. "The Administration should be reinforcing online services’ capacity to combat hate and extremism, rather than undermining it."

That was a reference to reports the President was considering issuing an executive order prohibiting online "viewpoint bias," which sounded a lot like the FCC's 'fairness doctrine' to Black.

The fairness doctrine was an FCC policy, scrapped in 1987, that required broadcasters to seek out and give airtime to opposing views on issues of national importance. 

Even before the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the President had signaled that social media platforms need to be fair--specifically talking about not censoring conservative speakers in this case--and said his Administration would try to make sure they were.

That was following a meeting with online "influencers"--conservative bloggers and social media figures. 

Black said such an Executive Order was "a step toward imposing censorship by proxy on the American people. Such disrespect for the core values of our Constitution’s First Amendment is dangerous to our freedom and democracy and unworthy of those who have undertaken an oath to defend the Constitution."

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, joined by almost four dozen other civil rights and public interest groups, said the meeting must not be used to stall needed actions by online companies. 

They wanted the companies to commit to the following at the meeting (No. 2 was highly unlikely):

  1. "Create a real plan to address the fostering of hate on their online platforms. Companies must implement consistent and sophisticated content policies that clarify how they will address white nationalism and white supremacy. They must share how these policies will be implemented to ensure users’ due process rights are upheld.
  2. "Condemn President Trump’s hate-filled statements and actions toward people of color, immigrants, Muslims and other religious minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community.
  3. "Acknowledge that so-called predictive technologies are not able to predict instances of mass violence and that these technologies have often been damaging to marginalized communities.
  4. "Acknowledge that foreign actors, including Russian operatives, have used and continue to use online platforms to influence our elections and to suppress voting in violation of U.S. law.
  5. "Agree to work to protect the integrity of the 2020 Census.
  6. "Reaffirm their commitment to increasing the diversity of employment in the tech industry in all jobs so that marginalized communities are part of the creation and implementation of online products."
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.