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“Our country has never been perfect, but most of us can remember a simpler time, just a few years ago, when we more or less knew how to talk to each other, how to convey basic information, how to acquire simple facts about the world. Then came social media. Now every video might be a deep fake; every headline might be a Macedonian scam; screen addiction and fomo have made bowling, even alone, seem like the height of civic engagement; and my poor phone has had to memorize such words as “rekt” and “Kekistan” and “bugman.” What is going on? Is this just the messy forward march of democracy, or evidence of a malign techno-oligarchy? Do Facebook and Alphabet and Amazon need to be broken up, or more effectively regulated, or just better understood? Where is the boundary between misinformation and disinformation, and how can we prevent both from swaying the upcoming election? We need a robust debate about all this—not just via trending hashtags but I.R.L., face to face. A social-media summit, if you will.
The President, as always, has his finger on the pulse. “The White House will be hosting a very big and very important Social Media Summit today,” he tweeted Thursday morning. The guests were to include C.E.O.s of the major social-media companies, various lawmakers with the power to regulate said companies, constitutional-law scholars, and an array of community activists, religious leaders, and pillars of civil society.
Just kidding! Civil society is boring, and community activists have pathetic follower counts. Trump did convene a social-media summit at the White House, on Thursday afternoon, but, according to press reports, no representatives from any social-media companies were invited. It seems that only two members of Congress were in attendance: Senator Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, who once complained that “too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats, or worse,” and Representative Matt Gaetz, of Florida, who once appeared on Infowars to opine about ostensible Democrat-F.B.I. collusion (“we’re called conspiracy theorists because we see this cabal right in front of us”). When the closed-door summit met, in the East Room, most of the seats were filled by such stalwart maga memesmiths as Bill Mitchell, whose indefatigable pro-Trump cheerleading has made him a target of mockery even on the far-right; James O’Keefe, who styles himself as an investigative journalist but acts more like an opposition researcher; Charlie Kirk, whose organization, Turning Point USA, keeps finding itself mired in racism scandals; and a stay-at-home dad from Kansas City who goes by Carpe Donktum. This was not Mr. Donktum’s first invitation to the White House. Last week, while some of the country’s top legal minds scrambled to justify the President’s mercurial and self-contradictory desires related to a citizenship question on the census, the President himself spent twenty minutes relaxing in the Oval Office with Donktum, whose job, according to his Twitter bio, is “the creation of memes to support President Donald J. Trump.” “Where is the genius?” the President asked as Donktum entered the inner sanctum of American power. “I want to meet the genius.””
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