Parler, which rose to prominence as the “conservative Twitter” thanks to its lax content moderation, is having one of the worst weeks of its existence — indeed, after the time it’s had, Parler may cease to exist at all.
Like an old-world pariah cast out of its village for various social crimes, the app was driven literally off the internet over the weekend, as Google, Amazon, and Apple all banned the app from their platforms. It was a whiplash-inducing turn of events for a company that, until this weekend, was one of the fastest-growing apps on the internet.
So what has Parler been accused of, exactly?
According to a sea of critics, the platform served to enable the violent, pro-Trump melee at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday that ended with five people dead and untold damage to federal property. Indeed, screenshots of apparent Parler user accounts appear to show rampant violent ideations in the run-up to the Capitol siege: Users mention bringing zipties to bind “Antifa,” arming themselves with firearms, and stabbing people with ice-picks, among other horrors.
Google, Amazon, and Apple used similar justifications for banning Parler: A sufficient content moderation policy was not put in place to stem the tide of violent content on its site.
The first cancellation came Friday, days after the Capitol chaos, when Google announced it would be suspending Parler from the Google Play store until the company “committed to a moderation and enforcement policy” that could cut down on the allegedly violence-inducing posts hosted on its platform. Around the same time, Parler saw a huge spike in traffic on other digital distribution platforms, temporarily becoming the number one app in Apple’s app store as conservative users flocked to the service. (Its global install rate reportedly rose some 281% on Friday). Yet Parler’s glory was short-lived. By Saturday night, Apple had booted Parler from the App Store. And at 11:59 p.m. PST on Sunday, Amazon yanked the social network from its hosting service, effectively kicking it offline on the grounds that it posed “a very real risk to public safety.”
The end result of this de-platforming gamut was the company’s total exile from the web. Parler lashed out Monday, announcing a lawsuit against Amazon for alleged antitrust infractions and accusing the tech giant of using its influence to “kill” its business at the “very time it is set to skyrocket.”
Whether Parler did play an inordinate role in fuelling the Capitol crisis could become more clear in the weeks to come. Though the app is currently down, a hacker claims they downloaded almost all of the content on the platform before it was shoved offline on Sunday night. The millions of photos, videos, and posts could be of interest to law enforcement agencies as they seek to investigate those responsible for the violent storming of the Capitol Building.
Parler executives are naturally refuting the view that the company was the sole instigator behind the violence last week. The company’s chief policy officer, Amy Peikoff, told Fox and Friends Weekend that she felt Parler had been “singled out,” and that they had potentially been “set up.”
“We’re not necessarily being singled out by those tech companies, but certainly by the people who have been putting pressure on them and, in fact, we think we’re being set up in a lot of ways because in looking at some of the content, these are accounts that have been created two days ago and they have few pieces of content and some of them are parodies of what you would think a right-wing insider of violence would be,” Peikoff added.
This argument isn’t wholly without merit, considering Twitter and Facebook are hardly bastions of non-violent rhetoric and both surely acted as platforms for coordination in the lead-up to Wednesday’s attack. The (questionable) Parler lawsuit also points this out, noting that one of the top trending tweets on Twitter as of Friday night was “Hang Mike Pence.” (Twitter did eventually step in and block that hashtag). On the other hand, both Facebook and Twitter have established content moderation policies that the companies ostensibly try to uphold.
Parler launched in late 2018, branded as a rightwing “antidote” to the perceived liberal-dominated social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. It always had conservative foundations: It was co-founded and received healthy funding doses from Rebekah Mercer, whose hedge fund managing father, Bob Mercer, controversially bankrolled Cambridge-Analytica, the political consulting firm that infamously helped Donald Trump win the presidency via shady targeted advertising practices and famously caused a nightmare for Facebook.
At the time of the app’s launch, daughter Mercer hoped Parler would be “a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy” against the “ever-increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.” Clearly, that isn’t working out too well.