RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The White House is hosting a social media summit today. President Trump is known for his passionate use of social media, specifically Twitter, which he often deploys to rally his base. The guest list at the event will feature some members of Congress and several of his social media fans. It's a who's who of conservative personalities, some associated with the "alt-right." Big tech giants like Twitter and Facebook have not been invited. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has the story.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: When he got the email invitation to the White House, Twitter personality Carpe Donktum thought it might be a spam.
CARPE DONKTUM: When I first got it, I was like, well, this seems kind of official, but I'm not sure that it is.
GARSD: Carpe Donktum requested that we withhold his real name. He says he fears retaliation against his family. So how does a stay-at-home dad in Kansas whose real name is not public get invited to the White House? Because on Twitter, he's a celebrity with over 100,000 followers. Carpe Donktum, by the way, roughly comes from Latin. It's a parody meaning seize the donkey, referring to Democrats.
He's a prolific creator of pro-Trump images and videos, which he tweets out, like this one, footage of the State of the Union featuring clearly unhappy Democrats in the audience with the band R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" playing over it.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
REM: (Singing) Don't let yourself go...
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That America will never be a socialist country.
REM: (Singing) ...'Cause everybody cries.
GARSD: It was retweeted by the president, who has since shared several other of Carpe Donktum's spoofs. Later today, Carpe Donktum will be attending a social media summit organized by the White House.
Twitter is President Trump's preferred way of getting his message out. And while the White House has been mum about the guest list, some people have tweeted out their invitations. Many of them are part of the Trump Twitterverse, conservative social media personalities who orbit around Trump's bright Twitter star. But Trump has attacked those same social media platforms.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: You look at Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants. And I've made it clear that we as a country cannot tolerate political censorship, blacklisting and rigged search results.
GARSD: Both Google and Facebook have denied that they censor the right. A lot of people believe that's just not true. Conservative talk show host Bill Mitchell, who's also going to the summit, blames Twitter's algorithm for some of his followers not being able to see his tweets. He hopes at the summit they talk about how social media has become the modern public square.
BILL MITCHELL: And if you become the public square, you really need to offer First Amendment protections to people where everybody can have free and open speech. Let's have the open debate, and may the best man win.
GARSD: Angelo Carusone, from the liberal nonprofit Media Matters, believes in free speech. But he says some of the guests at the summit alarm him.
ANGELO CARUSONE: You know, there's a couple establishment players there. But for the most part, they're far-right figures, they're extremists and a lot of people with ties to white nationalism.
GARSD: Mitchell and Carpe Donktum disavowed racism to NPR, but Media Matters also points to other guests, like Charlie Kirk from Turning Point USA, an organization that has been accused of racist viewpoints. Here's Carusone again.
CARUSONE: When you start to bring in all these individuals that are connected to or have relationships to these communities, what they do is they go back and they validate - oh, yeah, I met with the president. I was at the White House. You know, we're a part of this. The normalization of this is the part that concerns me.
GARSD: And as the president rallies his base ahead of the 2020 elections, Carusone wonders about the effect of elevating these voices on the right.
Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.