Parler, the social network for conservatives with more guns than friends, isn’t doing so hot in its quest for a federal court injunction forcing Amazon to restore its web hosting services, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.
On January 7, a horde of pro-Donald Trump rioters trying to overturn the 2020 election results stormed the U.S. Capitol, incited by a rally at which Trump told the audience to go to the Capitol and “show strength” and “be strong.” Five people died during the ensuing attack. Parler — which bills itself as a “free speech” site that only moderates content at the most bare-bones level — was disproportionately full of violent, right-wing rhetoric, even compared to other sites like Facebook. Google and Apple banned Parler from their respective app stores soon after, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) revoked its cloud hosting services, saying Parler had failed to implement an effective moderation system.
Parler is now suing Amazon, claiming contractual violations, anti-competitive behaviour, and that the company was “motivated by political animus” and a desire to “reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.” Parler’s legal logic appeared quite thin from the start, and according to Bloomberg, U.S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein in Seattle did not come across as inclined to order Amazon to restore hosting services in the short term:
Instead, she expressed interest in taking a more measured approach to deciding whether she should order a permanent injunction to restore web-services to Parler.
While AWS argues Parler has only itself to blame for being knocked offline, Parler has argued it was blindsided by the suspension and that AWS hasn’t shown beyond speculation that the platform was used to incite last week’s riot.
“The site is supported by advertising, they have no revenue coming in,” David J. Groesbeck told the judge. “AWS has not indicated any good-faith efforts to get the site up and going and number two, to help Parler out. All these actions indicate irreparable harm and injury.”
While Reuters reported Rothstein said she would rule “as quickly as possible” in the case, Parler is dangling by a thin rope and every day it remains down constitutes a major blow to its long-term prospects. In court filings, Parler said it has “no other option” but AWS hosting.
Politico wrote that on Friday, Parler attorney David Groesbeck argued that Amazon’s decision to terminate its contract meant that “Millions of Americans have had their voices silenced” and that Amazon specifically intended to prevent Trump from registering an account after he was banned from Twitter. (Among Parler’s arguments was that Amazon was aware Trump had considered registering an account under the extremely cringeworthy moniker “Person X”.)
Amazon has responded to the lawsuit with filings showing that it had repeatedly warned Parler its community was a cesspool flooded with racist garbage and alarmingly specific death threats. Amazon attorney Ambika Doran told the court on Thursday that “Amazon had every right to do what it did under the contract,” according to Politico. She argued Amazon projected Parler could have 25 million users by President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20 while doing nothing to resolve the deluge of murder, rape, and other violent threats. Doran added that “There is no one at Parler who says they have an effective moderation plan” and Amazon has no interest in protecting Twitter as AWS doesn’t even host Twitter’s main feed.
Parler has denied playing a significant role in the riots. But before the site went down, every Parler post was scraped by a researcher who goes by the Twitter handle @donk_enby. Gizmodo research showed that hundreds of video posts had geotags identifying Parler users as among the crowd that surrounded the Capitol, with some of the videos shot within the building.
CEO John Matze admitted in an interview with the New York Times’ Kara Swisher the company does not proactively screen for any kind of violent content with algorithms, just “pornography and nudity and things like that.” He also explained reports of rule-breaking are judged by a “community jury,” overlooking the rather obvious issue of whether Parler’s community of rabid right-wingers could possibly be trusted with policing itself.
As TechDirt’s Mike Masnick observed, Parler’s continued insistence that it wouldn’t police speech on its site come across more as a cover story for half-assed, selective moderation than anything else — Matze bragged in mid-2020 that he regularly banned “leftist trolls” and the site has rules against things like repeatedly swearing that conveniently seemed, at least anecdotally, to be enforced mostly against non-conservatives. On Thursday, Matze told Fox News that when Parler returns, it will use algorithms to police more types of content.