Trump Uses Twitter to Govern. I Used It to Cover His Social Media Summit.


WASHINGTON — President Trump invited some of his most ardent digital warriors to the White House on Thursday for its first social media summit. Twitter was not there and its platform was down in the hours leading up to the event — the company blamed an “internal configuration change.”

But the president’s favorite bullhorn made a timely comeback just as the summit began, and it struck me that there was no better way to document the lovefest between Mr. Trump and 200 of his most passionate online followers.

A little context is in order here. In the business, we call this the “nut graf,’’ which tells you why the story is important.

The president, to no one’s surprise, said early on that he liked the power of his tweets: their ability to blow up the internet or cause CNN and MSNBC anchors to react swiftly. He also mentioned that fewer people were engaging with his missives.

The audience did not include the traditional companies that come to mind for social media: Twitter, Facebook and Google. Instead Mr. Trump gathered a collection of far-right voices who he said often worked with Dan Scavino, the White House social media director.

Mr. Trump moved on to a range of topics, including the strategy for beating the Democrats in 2020.

But an uninvited guest distracted Mr. Trump by literally getting in his face. A fly in the White House! History tells us that the president is easily distracted by these household insects. He seemed to recover quickly, though.

Mr. Trump raised the issue of so-called shadow banning last year after an article in Vice News claimed that certain conservatives were being muted by Twitter’s search function. That turned out to be false. Still, the president and his supporters are convinced that conservative suppression online is a real problem.

Several times, Mr. Trump appeared to gesture to individuals in the crowd, simultaneously praising and chiding them for bad behavior.

The president then took questions from his supporters. Conveniently, the White House stopped broadcasting the event, closing it off to observers.

Up next was a news conference about Mr. Trump’s decision to drop the fight to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The president, his attorney general and his commerce secretary were ushered into the Rose Garden, where the social media attendees awaited. It was unclear what right-wing activists had to do with the legal issues surrounding federal data, but they cheered him on anyway.

Just as rain began to fall, Mr. Trump went inside and left his supporters to squabble with journalists who had assembled to cover the event. Sebastian Gorka, a supporter and briefly a Trump administration official, rushed at a reporter.

“Are you threatening me in the Rose Garden?” Mr. Gorka said. The journalist said no. Still, a chant from Mr. Trump’s supporters broke out: “Gorka! Gorka! Gorka!” Mr. Gorka then called the journalist a “punk.” Another attendee from the social media event crudely suggested to the journalist that Mr. Gorka could take him in a fight.

Twitter flickered off again shortly after, bringing the social media event to its conclusion.

Kate Conger contributed reporting from San Francisco.

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