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Trump touts the 'power' of controversial social media activists at White House summit

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Image: White House Social Media Summit
Many of the attendees at Thursday's "Social Media Summit" have trafficked in conspiracy theories. -
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Adrian Lam NBC News
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump blasted "disgraceful" social media companies for "terrible bias" and accused them without evidence of manipulating his content during a summit at the White House Thursday, touting his massive online following and praising conspiracy theorists and far-right agitators alike.

"You have a lot of power and you have to use it wisely," Trump said to the several hundred conservative digital and social media professionals in attendance, before celebrating their work extensively.

"You communicate with our citizens without going through the fake news filter," the tweeter-in-chief said. "The crap you think of is unbelievable."

The president spoke to the "historic" nature of the gathering, taking repeated shots at the mainstream press and praising the people in the room who challenge "the media gatekeepers."

In recent years, complaints from conservatives of unfair treatment by major tech companies have grown from murmurs into a cacophony of complaints that now includes the president and other major Republican politicians. Some have threatened to put forward legislation on the topic, though none has yet become a serious threat to the companies.

Several of the social media personalities who attended Thursday's event are known for spreading false information or trafficking in harassment, which some disinformation researchers call "incredibly toxic."

Hours before the meeting, the Southern Poverty Law Center called the meet-up "a gathering of groups and individuals who have no business at the White House," saying the invite list included "conspiracy theorists and extremists."

"For years we've watched social media serve as a gateway to radicalization and, far too often, real-life violence. Bringing these groups together is beyond irresponsible; it is essentially conducting a hate summit at the White House," reads a statement from the SPLC.

Attendees included right-wing personalities Ali Alexander, who had pushed the false conspiracy theory that the California-born Senator Kamala Harris was not an "American black," Jim Hoft, from the conspiracy website Gateway Pundit, and YouTube personality Tim Pool, who has pushed the false conspiracy theory that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich leaked hacked emails to WikiLeaks.

Trump also took several minutes to congratulate White House social media director Dan Scavino, who has been a part of his inner circle since before the administration.

"I think Hillary [Clinton] had 28 people and I had Dan. Right? I had my Dan," Trump said with a laugh.

Coincidentally, Twitter was down for about 45 minutes before the event started. As if on cue, the site was back up and running mere moments before Trump took the stage in the East Room.

The White House did not distribute a full list of participants ahead of the event but large social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google said they were not invited to attend. After the session wrapped, officials still declined to provide a complete list of attendees.

The president hinted at why in a tweet this morning, writing: "A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies. We will not let them get away with it much longer."

Twitter and Facebook declined to comment.

Trump's 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale, who spearheaded the president's all-important 2016 digital strategy, also joined the event. Parscale is still heavily involved in this area for 2020, with more responsibility and influence. He and the president speak on a nearly daily basis, about campaign matters and beyond. Presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is also a key conduit between Parscale, the campaign and the White House.

Cabinet officials and lawmakers also attended the summit, including Sen. Josh Hawley, who spoke briefly at the president's invitation. Hawley said "social media giants would love to shut us down" and urged them to "stop discriminating against conservatives."

Without offering many specifics, Trump said he was inviting big tech firms to the White House in the coming weeks for a "big meeting" and a "real conversation."

Apart from the purported topic of Thursday's meeting, the president spent considerable time on other subjects, including his time hosting "The Apprentice" and taking swipes at Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom he referred to us "Pocahontas."

Trump also defended several of his most well-known typos and spelling errors, blaming his digits and arguing he's "actually a good speller" but "the fingers aren't as good as the brain."

Organizers printed and displayed giant versions of some of the president's tweets for the event, including a reference to this head-scratcher from 2018: "Who can figure out the true meaning of "covfefe" ??? Enjoy!"

After President Trump delivered his prepared remarks, radio show host Sebastian Gorka asked the first question in a Q-and-A session with summit attendees. Midway through the first question, reporters were escorted out of the room, and the livestream on the White House's website faded out.

After the president made brief remarks on abandoning his call for a citizenship question on the 2020 census, a confrontation erupted in the Rose Garden between several of the social media summit attendees and a few White House press corps members. Gorka and Trump supporter Joy Villa were seen shouting "fake news" at the assembled reporters and a brief screaming match ensued. Secret Service even came up to the people involved and asked them to please calm down before Gorka and Villa eventually stepped away and left the area.