A couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump promoted a far-right conspiracy theory that prominent social-media platforms are censoring conservatives. There’s no proof to support the president’s strange ideas, but Trump nevertheless declared, “Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen.”
The fact that the president was peddling yet another conspiracy theory was discouraging, but it was those last five words in his tweet that were especially unsettling: “We won’t let that happen.” And what, pray tell, does the White House intend to do to companies like Facebook and Twitter?
A similar question arose a few hours ago. Trump published a pair of early-morning tweets accusing Google News of offering “rigged” results when people search for his name. As proof, the president noted that Google News presents users with coverage from major independent news organizations, rather than “Republican/Conservative” websites.
Apparently unaware of how ridiculous this made him sound, Trump called the Google News results “very dangerous,” and possibly “illegal,” adding, “This is a very serious situation – will be addressed!”
Again, it’s the “will be addressed” part that’s worth paying attention to. It’s a shame that the president is throwing a tantrum over Google failing to provide results that cater to Trump’s ego, but I care less about the president’s whining and more about the president’s policy intentions.
With this in mind, consider an exchange this morning between reporters and Larry Kudlow, the chair of the White House National Economic Council.
Q: Does the president believe or does the administration feel that there needs to be some form of regulation for Google? Or what exactly was the president referring to?
KUDLOW: We’ll let you know. We’re taking a look at it. We’ll let you know.
That’s not a reassuring answer.
To be sure, it’s entirely possible that Kudlow knows that the president’s Twitter tantrum was foolish, and so the economic adviser gave a generic, anodyne response to reporters because he couldn’t tell everyone to ignore Trump’s occasional nonsense.
It’s also possible there’s been an actual conversation in the West Wing about government regulation of search engines because Trump wants Google News to promote far-right content that doesn’t hurt the president’s feelings.
I find it very hard to believe we’ll see any serious attempts at regulating Google, but the fact that the White House hasn’t ruled out the possibility says a great deal about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies.