Parler, the alternative social network popular with conservatives, has been banned by Apple, Google and Amazon.
Despite its niche audience, Parler is surging in popularity. The platform became the most-downloaded app on the weekend of November 8 — the day major media outlets called the election for Joe Biden.
But the platform has failed to rein in hate-filled, violent speech, which Big Tech companies said could lead to another event like Wednesday’s siege of the US Capitol.
What is Parler?
Parler, founded in 2018, bills itself as “unbiased social media” and a place where people can “speak freely and express yourself openly without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views,” according to its website and App Store description. It looks like a mashup of Twitter and Instagram, with its main feed, follower counts and ways to share posts and links.
The social media platform has been heavily used by supporters of President Donald Trump, including some who participated in Wednesday’s US Capitol unrest.
Many conservative politicians and media personalities have become active on Parler. Among those who have been active on Parler include Fox News host Sean Hannity, radio personality Mark Levin, far-right activist Laura Loomer, Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Devin Nunes. Eric Trump also has an account verified by Parler as does Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
What’s fueling its growth?
Facebook, Twitter and other social networks stepped up efforts to crack down on misinformation leading up to and following the presidential election in November. That led many prominent conservatives to claim that their voices have been disproportionately censored. Twitter hid dozens of President Donald Trump’s tweets in the weeks following the election, and both platforms banned Trump last week following the siege of the Capitol that he encouraged in speeches and on social media.
Although Facebook and Twitter are still awash with misinformation and hate, to Trump’s supporters, the steps Big Tech has taken to slow the spread of misinformation amounts to censorship. And some are seeking alternative homes online.
In a tweet shortly after Election Day, Fox News host Maria Bartiromo echoed a rallying cry of many prominent conservative voices: “I will be leaving [Twitter] soon and going to Parler. Please open an account on @parler right away.” (Bartiromo remains on Twitter.)
A substantial number of users have followed these voices onto the platform, fueled by complaints over actions major social media platforms have taken against election misinformation and false allegations of voter fraud, such as disputing claims with fact-check labels.
That helped Parler top the charts of the Apple and Android app stores.
Why is it controversial?
Parler is rife with misinformation, including a stream of baseless allegations of voter fraud. The platform has become a hub of Trump-backed conspiracy theories casting doubt on the election of President-elect Biden.
Accounts with swastikas as their profile pictures and disgusting racist posts are not hard to come by on Parler. Members of the Proud Boys, adherents of conspiracy theory QAnon, anti-government extremists and white supremacists all openly promote their views on Parler, according to an ADL report.
“Holocaust denial, antisemitism, racism and other forms of bigotry are also easy to find,” the ADL said.
Both extremists and “mainstream conservatives” are using the app to organize and recruit for pro-Trump events, such as the Capitol siege and the “Million MAGA March” in Washington DC, according to the ADL.
Apple said Parler posts include numerous “direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action.” The company said the processes Parler put in place to moderate or prevent the spread of dangerous and illegal content are “insufficient.”
Who’s behind it?
Parler was founded by Rebekah Mercer, John Matze and Jared Thomson.
Mercer, a prominent conservative donor, said she is helping to bankroll Parler “to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended, and also to create a social media environment that would protect data privacy,” she said in a statement in November.
Mercer is the daughter of Robert Mercer, a hedge fund manager and the co-founder of the now-defunct political data-analysis firm Cambridge Analytica. The Mercers have been prominent supporters of President Donald Trump and conservative causes.
For years, the Mercers have been key benefactors of conservative groups, ranging from the Heritage Foundation think tank, where Rebekah Mercer serves on the board of trustees, to organizations that have produced anti-Hillary-Clinton books and movies.
What’s the future for Parler?
Parler now finds itself virtually homeless on the internet as Amazon, Apple and Google have all booted it from their platforms in a span of a little more than 24 hours.
Amazon will remove Parler from its cloud hosting service, Amazon Web Services, Sunday evening, effectively kicking it off of the public internet after mounting pressure from the public and Amazon employees.
The decision, which goes into force on Sunday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time, will shut down Parler’s website and app until it can find a new hosting provider.
Even if it find a new host, Parler’s staying power is an open question. Over the years, cries of censorship have prompted several alternatives to crop up, such as Gab, 4chan and 8chan. However, none have yet succeeded in creating a long-lasting and robust right-leaning platform. These smaller players lack the resources of big companies like Facebook, their infrastructure can buckle under the pressure of increased traffic and they typically don’t have all the features of other social platforms that users are accustomed to.