Parler, the right-wing social network that was hounded off the web after many of its users predictably used the site to organise and stream the January 7 Capitol riots, is doubling down on being worse on the dime of its ultra-conservative board chairwoman Rebekah Mercer, according to a Tuesday report by Bloomberg.
Apple and Google kicked Parler off their respective app stores, and Amazon Web Services terminated its cloud hosting, after Parler did virtually nothing to address a deluge of user threats of physical harm, murder, and worse that targeted members of the Democratic Party and other liberals — with the Capitol riots, instigated by Trump supporters trying to overthrow the 2020 election results, apparently being the final straw. Parler was offline for weeks and only managed to return in a somewhat hobbled form in mid-February.
The site’s much-delayed return came amid reports of infighting over how far Parler should go to address violent, far-right extremism and conspiracy theories on the site. It’s a thorny issue when that kind of rhetoric is basically the Republican Party platform and thus would be impossible to address without triggering conservative cries of censorship. Mercer, a member of the GOP megadonor Mercer clan, reportedly engineered the ouster of the site’s old CEO John Matze and replaced him with a Tea Party activist, Mark Meckler.
Internal recordings obtained by Bloomberg show Parler leadership is now telling staff that they are the front lines in a war to prevent “tyranny and despotism,” which is sort of the same thing the rioters were saying:
“Love it or not, you’re warriors,” interim Chief Executive Officer Mark Meckler said in a meeting on Feb. 8. “This is a war, and you’re in the war, and we’re all going to link arms.”
Mercer herself joined one of the calls on Feb. 15, on the day Parler relaunched. “Shutting down free speech is the first step toward tyranny and despotism, and we can’t let it happen,” she told employees. “And so we will do everything we can to fight back against that and we are so proud and thrilled that you guys have all stood by us during this whole time.’’
(In fairness to Parler, Mercer and Meckler aren’t the first social media execs to declare their companies at war: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did it first all the way back in 2018.)
Bloomberg reported that another Parler investor and management committee member, Jeffrey Wernick, said in a Feb. 3 meeting after Matze’s firing that Mercer is bankrolling the site: “We’ve written big checks these last couple of days to various parties with respect to the fact that we have now two data centres. So far who’s writing the checks for all this stuff is Rebekah Mercer. So that’s the support she has for Parler.”
While the recordings show Wernick and Chief Policy Officer Amy Peikoff told staff a new algorithmic filter would remove content calling for violence, said filter would simply put hide racist, misogynist, homophobic, or other bigoted content behind a warning labels, Bloomberg wrote. So, in other words, Parler’s stance appears to be the same as it was in November, when Peikoff told Amazon in an email that a virulently racist, N-word-laden post about Michelle Obama using the hashtag “#GetOutN*****Bitch” didn’t violate its terms of service; it’ll just now make sure users have to confirm they want to read stuff like that. Of course, this is assuming Parler actually puts in the bare minimum of effort necessary to do that, which history suggests it won’t.
Peikoff also said in the recordings that they’re “not going after misinformation in any way,” according to Bloomberg, as they’re not the “arbiters of truth.” So if you want to spread lies claiming 5G causes the novel coronavirus or lizard people or whatever, Parler will happily enable you to do that too.
Parler won’t be returning to Amazon, Apple, or Google anytime soon. It’s currently suing (and losing against) Amazon in a string of antitrust lawsuits trying to force it to restore its hosting contract. Apple reportedly rejected Parler’s post-riot changes to its moderation policies as woefully inadequate to get it back on the App Store, after which Parler fired its iOS team, while Meckler said there was no need to appease moderators at Google’s Play Store because it is easier for Android users to sideload their own apps.
It’s still entirely possible that the worst of Parler lies ahead of it. The site reportedly offered Trump a major equity stake to start an account while he was still in office (something that would be more or less tantamount to a bribe). Matze claimed he was reluctant to sign such a deal as it would give Trump major leverage over Parler, but his replacement has been angling for the ex-president to set up shop on the site.