PEN America Sees Missed Opportunity in White House Social Media Summit that Excludes Major Online Platforms and a Plurality of Voices

(Washington)– In response to the White House convening of a so-called “social media summit” that in fact excluded the main online platforms and a full range of perspectives, PEN America released the following statement today from Washington Director Thomas Melia.

“Today’s meeting at the White House is billed as a discussion of ‘opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.’ White House spokesperson Judd Deere has said the goal of the session was to ‘bring together digital leaders for a robust conversation’ However, it is being reported that no representatives from the major social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook or the burgeoning field of law and policy on the topic were invited to the convening. The guest list, although not released publicly, appears to comprise primarily–or possibly exclusively–right-wing voices supportive of the President, some of whom assert they have been unfairly treated by social media companies due to their viewpoints. It’s very troubling that the invitees include prominent purveyors of falsehoods online along with representatives of sites popular among neo-Nazis. With this approach to the event, the White House has missed an important opportunity for productive dialogue on an issue with deep implications for the nation and the world.”

“The United States absolutely needs high-level dialogue about the proper roles of private companies and government in the complex and fraught areas of content moderation and terms of use policies. Sadly, today’s gathering entirely misses the mark with its highly politicized guest list that excludes important voices and includes conspiracy peddlers and purveyors of false information who might more rightly be viewed as part of the problem. The White House is more likely to further muddy the waters of the policy debate, and make it harder to address the significant issues facing society. like the malicious proliferation of fraudulent news and disinformation, a lack of online inclusivity, and censorship.”

The White House meeting comes amid increasing scrutiny for digital platforms. The size and reach of these companies has prompted the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department have taken initial steps towards an antitrust investigation.

PEN America has examined the challenges of fraudulent news and misinformation carried by digital platforms in two major reports, Truth on the Ballot: Fraudulent News, the Midterm Elections, and Prospects for 2020 and earlier Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth. PEN America also has responded to the growing threat that online hate and harassment pose to free expression with a first-of-its-kind digital toolkit, the Online Harassment Field Manual.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, PEN America media consultant, strimel@pen.org