Sep 1, 2019

Trump allies plot new war on social media

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump's campaign and key allies plan to make allegations of bias by social media platforms a core part of their 2020 strategy, officials tell Axios. 

The big picture: Look for ads, speeches and sustained attacks on Facebook and Twitter in particular, the sources say. The irony: The social platforms are created and staffed largely by liberals — but often used most effectively in politics by conservatives, the data shows. 

Why it matters: Trump successfully turned the vast majority of his supporters against traditional media, and he hopes to do the same against the social media companies.

  • Republicans' internal data shows it stirs up the base like few other topics. 
  • "In the same way we've seen trust in legacy media organizations deteriorate over the past year, there are similarities with social media companies," a top Republican operative involved in the effort told me. 

Between the lines: The charges of overt bias by social media platforms are way overblown, several studies have found. But, if the exaggerated claims stick, it could increase the chances of regulatory action by Republicans.

  • "People feel they’re being manipulated, whether it's by what they're being shown in their feeds or actions the companies have taken against conservatives," the operative said.
  • "It's easy for people to understand how these giant corporations could influence them and direct them toward a certain favored candidate."

How tech execs see it: They know the escalation is coming, so they are cranking up outreach to leading conservatives and trying to push hard on data showing that conservative voices often outperform liberal ones.

Reality check, from Axios chief tech correspondent Ina Fried: What is real is that most of the platforms have policies against bias that some conservative figures have run afoul of. 

  • Managing editor Scott Rosenberg notes that Twitter is Trump's megaphone, while Facebook is often his favorite place to run ads. 

What's next: By the time 2020 is over, trust in all sources of information will be low, and perhaps unrecoverable.

  • A nation without shared truth will be hard-to-impossible to govern. 

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