Parler

Parler
Parler logo.png
Screenshot
Parler screenshot.jpg
The default page shown to logged-out users
Type of businessPrivate
Type of site
Social networking service
Founded2018[1]
HeadquartersHenderson, Nevada
Founder(s)John Matze, Jared Thomson and Rebekah Mercer[1]
CEOJohn Matze
IndustryInternet
Employees30[2]
URLparler.com
RegistrationRequired
Users4 million (active)
10 million (total)
as of November 2020[2][3]
LaunchedSeptember 2018; 2 years ago (2018-09)[1]
Current statusActive

Parler (/pɑːrlər/, PAR-ler) is an American microblogging and social networking service launched in August 2018. Parler has a significant user base of Trump supporters, conservatives, and right-wing extremists.[4][5][6] Posts on the service often contain far-right content,[12] antisemitism,[15][discuss] and conspiracy theories.[18] Parler has been described as an alternative to Twitter, and is popular among people who have been banned from mainstream social networks or oppose their moderation policies.[4][7][19]

Parler markets itself as a "free speech" and unbiased alternative to mainstream social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. However, journalists and users have criticized the service for content policies that are more restrictive than the company portrays, and sometimes more restrictive than those of its competitors.[20][21][22][23] As of November 2020, the service had about 4 million active users, and over 10 million total users.[2][3]

History

In June 2020, Dan Bongino (pictured) announced he had purchased an "ownership stake" in Parler.[24] The company has declined to provide a full list of owners.[21]

Parler (French: parler, lit. 'to speak') was founded by John Matze and Jared Thomson in Henderson, Nevada in 2018.[1][19] Republican donor Rebekah Mercer was also a founder.[25] Matze is the company's chief executive officer and Thomson serves as the chief technology officer.[1] Both Matze and Thomson are alumni of the University of Denver computer science program, and some other Parler senior staff also attended the school.[19]

2018–2019

Parler launched in August 2018, and its user base grew to 100,000 users by May 2019.[26][27] A December 2018 tweet by conservative activist Candace Owens brought 40,000 of those users to the Parler, causing their servers to malfunction.[27][28] The service initially attracted some Republican personalities including former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, Utah Senator Mike Lee, and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, and some who were banned from other social media networks such as the far-right activists and commentators Gavin McInnes, Laura Loomer, and Milo Yiannopoulos.[4][27] Reuters wrote that Parler had "mostly been a home for supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump" until June 2019. Matze told the news organization that although he had intended Parler to be bipartisan, they had focused their marketing efforts toward conservatives as they began to embrace the service.[4]

In June 2019, Parler said its user base more than doubled when around 200,000 accounts from Saudi Arabia signed up to the network. Largely supporters of the controversial Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the users migrated from Twitter after alleging they were experiencing censorship on the platform. Although Twitter did not acknowledge removing posts by Saudi users that might have triggered the exodus, the company had previously deactivated hundreds of accounts that were supportive of the Saudi government, which Twitter had described as "inauthentic" accounts in an "electronic army" pushing the Saudi government's agenda.[4][29] The influx of new accounts to Parler caused some service interruptions, at times making it unusable.[29] Parler described the Saudi accounts as part of "the nationalist movement of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," and encouraged other users to welcome them to the service.[4] Some of the Saudi users tweeted the #MAGA hashtag and photos of President Trump with the Saudi royal family to try to curry favor with the Trump-supporting and far-right users on the service.[29] The Saudi accounts found a mixed reception among the existing user base; some welcomed the Saudi users, others made Islamophobic remarks, and some expressed beliefs that the new accounts were bots.[4]

2020

Parler experienced a surge in signups in mid-2020.[30] In May, Twitter sparked outrage among President Trump and his supporters when it flagged some of the president's tweets about mail-in ballots as "potentially misleading", and a tweet regarding the George Floyd protests as "glorifying violence".[22][31][32][33] In response, Parler published a "Declaration of Internet Independence" modeled after the United States Declaration of Independence, and began using the #Twexit hashtag (a reference to Brexit). Describing Twitter as a "Tech Tyrant" that censored conservatives, the campaign encouraged Twitter users to migrate to Parler.[34] Conservative commentator Dan Bongino announced on June 16 that he had purchased an "ownership stake" in Parler in an effort to "fight back against the Tech Tyrants" Twitter and Facebook.[24] On June 18, Brad Parscale endorsed Parler in a tweet, also writing, "Hey @twitter your days are numbered" and including a screenshot of a tweet from President Trump which Twitter had flagged as manipulated media.[30]

On June 19, controversial right-wing English media personality Katie Hopkins was permanently suspended from Twitter for violating their policies on "hateful conduct".[8][35] An account falsely claiming to be hers appeared on Parler shortly after the ban, and was quickly verified by Parler. After collecting $500 in donations solicited on Parler to purportedly sue Twitter over the ban, Parler removed the impersonator account. A Twitter account affiliating itself with the hacktivist group Anonymous claimed responsibility for the imposture on June 20, saying they would donate the money they had collected to Black Lives Matter groups, a movement Hopkins has mocked in the past. Parler acknowledged that the impersonator had been "verified by an employee improperly", and Matze made a public apology.[8] Hopkins herself joined Parler on June 20, with Matze posting that he had personally verified her account.[36][37] The incident drew some attention to Parler within the United Kingdom. Thirteen MPs had joined as of June 23, and some British right-wing and conservative activists endorsed the service over Twitter.[8]

On June 24, 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump campaign was looking for alternatives to social media networks that had restricted their posts and advertising, and that Parler was being considered.[38][39] Texas Senator Ted Cruz published a YouTube video on June 25 in which he denounced other social media platforms for "flagrantly silencing those with whom they disagree" and announced that he was "proud to join Parler."[40] Other prominent Republican and conservative figures also joined in June, including Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, New York Representative Elise Stefanik, and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley.[39]

Controversial right-wing President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro joined Parler on July 13.[41][42] Earlier in July, his son Flávio Bolsonaro endorsed Parler on Twitter. As a result, Parler experienced a wave of signups from Brazil in July.[42] According to Bloomberg News, as of July 15, 2020, Brazilian users made up over half of all Parler signups that month.[30] Twitter had also taken down some of President Bolsonaro's posts in March 2020 for violating their rules on spreading disinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.[42][43]

On October 1, 2020, Reuters broke a story that people associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency, a group known for their interference in the 2016 presidential election, had been operating social media accounts on both mainstream and alt-tech platforms. One of the accounts, named Leo, who was identified in an FBI probe as a "key asset in an alleged Russian disinformation campaign", had been spreading "familiar—and completely false" information including claims that mail-in voting is prone to fraud, that President Trump was infected with coronavirus by leftist activists, and that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is a "sexual predator".[44] Axios noted that the account had not found much of an audience on mainstream platforms but had caught on among the alt-tech platforms; the Twitter account had fewer than 200 followers, but the Parler account had 14,000.[45] Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all took actions to suspend the accounts from their platforms.[46] The Washington Post reported on October 7 that Parler had declined to terminate the account after being informed of its connections to the disinformation organization, stating they did not need to act because they had not been contacted directly by U.S. law enforcement.[44]

Also in October, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube acted to ban content supporting the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory,[47] thousands of QAnon proponents migrated to Parler following the crackdown. Similar actions by Facebook against organizations promoting violence prompted some members of the Proud Boys and adherents of the boogaloo movement to move to Parler.[5]

Parler experienced a wave of signups following the 2020 United States presidential election from American conservatives who were concerned their posts, or those of other conservatives, on mainstream social networks would be affected by the platforms' efforts to quash misinformation about the election.[5][48][3] The app was downloaded nearly 1 million times in the week following Election Day on November 3, and rose to the top of both the Apple App Store's and the Google Play Store's lists of most popular free apps. Following the election, The Verge reported that Parler had become a "central hub for many of the conservative protests against recent election results", including the emerging "Stop the Steal" conspiracy theory which alleges there was widespread electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential election.[49][50]

Usage

In the last week of June 2020, it was estimated that the Parler app had more than 1.5 million daily users.[39] As of July 15, 2020, Parler had 2.8 million total users and had been downloaded 2.5 million times, nearly half of which were in June.[20][30] Throughout June and July Parler on several occasions was highly listed on both the Apple and Google Play app stores, in various categories and overall.[23] The Parler app was downloaded nearly a million times in the week following Election Day on November 3, and became the most popular free app on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.[49] In November 2020, The New York Times reported that Parler had added 3.5 million users in a single week that month.[13] As of November 2020, the service had about 4 million active users, and over 10 million total users.[3][2]

Despite the wave in signups in mid-2020, some news outlets expressed doubt that Parler will remain popular or enter mainstream usage. According to TheWrap, after several weeks of more than 700,000 downloads a week, Parler's weekly downloads subsided back into the low 100,000s during mid-July.[51] Bloomberg News also reported that downloads of the app had substantially slowed following the initial wave, and described Parler's June download numbers as a "small fraction" of apps like TikTok, which receives tens of millions of downloads a month.[30] Parler's user base, though it grew substantially in mid- and late 2020, remained much smaller than that of its competitors.[20][21][28] As of November 2020, Twitter had 187 million users a day and Facebook had 1.8 billion users a day, whereas Parler had 4 million active users and 8 million in total.[3] Slate wrote that alternative social networks like Parler "normally ... just don’t get that big".[23]

Although some high-profile figures have created accounts on Parler, many of them remain more active on and have substantially larger follower bases on mainstream social networks.[7][20][28][52] Mic questioned how long Parler's spike in popularity would last, citing as an obstacle the reluctance among those with large Twitter followings to migrate to a new service.[34] The Daily Beast noted in July and October 2020 that many high-profile conservatives who opened accounts on Parler in the previous month had since stopped using the service, while remaining active on mainstream social networks.[53][16] Some have described Parler as a backup in case Twitter bans them.[30][53]

User base and content

Parler has a significant user base of Trump supporters, conservatives, and right-wing extremists.[4][29][5][6][23] The Anti-Defamation League wrote in November 2020 that "Parler has attracted a range of right-wing extremists" including Proud Boys; proponents of the QAnon conspiracy theory; anti-government extremists including members of the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and other militia groups; and white supremacists including members of the alt-right and accelerationists.[6]

Parler is noted for its far-right and alt-right,[12] antisemitic,[15] and anti-feminist content.[27] Posts also include anti-Muslim content,[27] although Parler also has a substantial user base of Saudi nationalists who support Crown Prince and de facto prime minister of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.[4] Both The Independent and The Forward have noted the presence of antisemitic content on the site.[7][11] Parler CEO John Matze told The Forward he was unaware of antisemitic content on Parler, but was unsurprised that it was there. He believes removing hateful content only further radicalizes people, saying, "If you're going to fight these peoples' views, they need to be out in the open.... Don't force these people into the corners of the internet where they're not going to be able to be proven wrong." Political scientist Alison Dagnes has said of Parler's stance on speech on the platform: "I don't think you can have it both ways.... There is no such thing as civilized hate speech."[7] Extremism expert Chip Berlet said of Matze's opinions on hateful content: "I think he’s full of it.... I think he knows exactly what he’s creating, he’s encouraging people who basically don’t like other folks in the country... it's bologna, this is a place for people to fester in their own bigotry."[7]

Many posts on Parler contain misinformation and conspiracy theories.[18] Parler has said they will not fact check posts on the platform, a decision BBC News says has allowed misinformation to spread more easily on the platform than on mainstream social networks. In particular, BBC News noted the presence of posts spreading the QAnon conspiracy theory, as well as misinformation surrounding the 2020 US presidential election, COVID-19, child trafficking, and vaccines.[5] The Verge noted in November 2020 that Parler had become a "central hub" for the "Stop the Steal" conspiracy theory relating to the 2020 US presidential election.[49] The Forward and The Bulwark observed the presence of antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as others.[9][7]

Parler has served as an echo chamber for far-right or pro-Trump content, according to The Independent, the New Statesman, and Fast Company.[8][54][55] In mid-2020, alt-right activist and Trump supporter Jack Posobiec compared the service to a Trump rally, saying that Parler lacks the "energy" that Twitter draws from having communities of people with differing viewpoints.[28][56] Around the same time, extremism researcher and professor Amarnath Amarasingam said of Parler, "talking to yourself in the dark corners of the internet is actually not that satisfying," and that he was skeptical Parler would excite the far right without left-leaning users with whom they can interact and fight.[23] In June 2020, Matze said he wanted to see more debate on the platform and offered a "progressive bounty" of $10,000 to liberal pundits with at least 50,000 Twitter or Facebook followers who would join; receiving no takers, he later increased this amount to $20,000.[39][28] Jason Blazakis, the director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute, told The Hill in November 2020 that he thought that extreme users migrating to Parler was a good thing: "these people are leaving those platforms and no longer trying to red pill individuals to see their conspiracy theories on large platforms like Facebook and Twitter". He said that Parler's size might result in a smaller audience for those pushing conspiracy theories and spreading misinformation.[57]

Parler refers to users of its service as Parleyers.[20] Parler is one of a number of alternative social network platforms, including Minds, MeWe, Gab, and BitChute, that are popular with people banned from mainstream networks such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, and Instagram.[58][59] Deen Freelon and colleagues writing in Science characterized Parler as among alt-tech websites and services that are "dedicated to right-wing communities", and listed the service along with 4chan, 8chan, BitChute, and Gab. They noted there are also more ideologically neutral alt-tech services, such as Discord and Telegram.[60]

Appearance and features

The Parler feed of Andy Biggs as it appeared on June 30, 2020.

Parler is a microblogging service that is both a website and an app. The name was originally intended to be pronounced as in French (/pɑːrl/, PAR-lay), but is now pronounced as the English word "parlor" (/pɑːrlər/, PAR-ler).[27][61] It is available on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.[62] Users who register for accounts are able to follow the accounts of other users.[63] Unlike Twitter, the feed of posts – called "Parleys" or "Parlays" – from followed accounts appears to a user chronologically, instead of through an algorithm-based selection process.[30][63][64] Parleys are limited to 1,000 characters in length, and users can "vote" or "echo" the posts of other users whom they follow, functions that have been compared to Twitter's "like" and "retweet" functions.[21] A direct messaging feature is also built into the platform, allowing users to privately contact each other.[21] Public figures are verified on the app with a gold badge, and parody accounts are identified with a purple badge.[39] Anyone who verifies their identity by providing government-issued photo identification during signup is identified with a red badge.[21]

Parler has been described by Forbes in June 2020 as "like a barebones Twitter."[63] The same month, Fast Company wrote that Parler was "well-designed and organized," also noting its similar appearance to Twitter.[55] The Conversation described the service in July 2020 as "very similar to Twitter in appearance and function, albeit clunkier."[65] Jacob Wohl, a far-right conspiracy theorist who said he would use the platform after he was banned from Instagram and Facebook, criticized Parler's user experience in September 2020, saying, "Their technical wherewithal is atrocious, Parler hardly works, it’s a website and application that would fit right in, in about 2006. It’s really bad."[66]

Content and moderation

Parler describes itself as a free speech platform, and its founders have proclaimed that the service engages in minimal moderation and will not fact-check posts. They have also said they will allow posts that have been removed or flagged as misinformation on other social media networks such as Twitter.[20][21] Parler's CEO Matze said in an interview with CNBC on June 27, 2020, "We're a community town square, an open town square, with no censorship... If you can say it on the street of New York, you can say it on Parler."[39] The service has been popular among conservatives who allege Twitter has been biased against them when moderating content or flagging misinformation.[5][39]

However, the site has been criticized by some who believe its content policies are more restrictive than the company portrays, and sometimes more restrictive than those of the mainstream social media platforms to which it claims to be an unbiased free speech alternative.[8][22][23][67] Parler's guidelines disallow content including pornography, obscenity, or indecency; blackmail; support for terrorism; false rumors; promoting marijuana; and "fighting words" directed towards others.[31][39] Parler says that their policy is based on the positions of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Supreme Court, although Gizmodo has described this as "nonsensical", noting that the FCC only moderates public airwaves, not internet content, and that some of Parler's rules are more restrictive than restrictions imposed by either the FCC or the Supreme Court.[22] The Independent wrote in November 2020, "Despite positioning itself as a libertarian platform promoting freedom of expression, Parler's community guidelines are more than 1,500 words and include rules that go far beyond legal requirements."[68]

On June 30, 2020, after Parler banned a spate of accounts, Matze published a Parler post outlining some of the service's rules.[20][22] Some of them, such as one asking users not to publish photos of feces, were described by The Independent as "bizarre."[62] Slate and Gizmodo noted that the top reply to Matze's post identified that "Twitter allows four of the five things that Parler censors."[22][23] Some of the clauses in Parler's user agreement have been criticized as "unusual" and seemingly contradictory to its mission, including one that allows Parler to remove content and ban users "at any time and for any reason or no reason," and one that would require a user to pay for any of Parler's legal expenses incurred as a result of their use of the service.[21][23][31][53] Ars Technica reported in November 2020 that the clause requiring users to cover legal fees had been removed from Parler's user agreement following negative media coverage.[69]

The Daily Dot reported on June 30, 2020 that Parler had been banning left-wing accounts including parody accounts and those critical of Parler.[70] Newsweek also wrote about accounts being banned from the service, some of which appeared to have been intentionally testing the limits of Parler's free speech ethos.[31] The Washington Post described a user who had been banned for speaking out against opposing viewpoints on Parler, and posting a photo "that some could consider explicit."[20] Mic wrote that Parler has used the personal information provided during signup to ban those they've identified as "teenage leftists".[34] Will Duffield of the Cato Institute wrote that Matze had also apparently instituted a blanket ban on antifa supporters.[71] After a surge in popularity among conservatives in November 2020, The Independent noted that Parler had been accused of removing left-leaning users and removing content that contradicted or was critical of popular opinions expressed there.[68]

Matze told The Washington Post that he does not see Parler's guidelines as contradictory to its stance on free speech.[20] In an interview with CNSNews.com on August 5, 2020, Matze acknowledged that the guidelines were "really awkward" and said that they were being revised by a lawyer. He also said that Parler would never ban hate speech, and that the company "refuse[s] to ban people on something so arbitrary that it can't be defined."[72][73] As of July 2020, Parler had a team of 200 volunteer moderators.[20] Matze told Fortune magazine the same month that he wanted to expand the moderation team to 1,000 volunteers.[33] In November 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported all moderation was still being handled by volunteers, called "community jurors".[2]

Registration and verification

Creating an account and using Parler is free. Signup requires both an e-mail address and phone number.[34] At the point of registration, users have the option of supplying a photo of themselves and a scan of the front and back of their government-issued photo identification to have their account verified by Parler.[64][21] Individual users can optionally set their account to only view Parleys from other verified users. According to Matze, the purpose of the verification feature is to allow users to minimize their contact with trolls.[64] Anyone who verifies their identity on Parler is given a red badge, and people considered to be public figures are denoted with a gold badge.[21]

According to Matze, the identification document scans submitted by users who choose to have their accounts verified are destroyed after verification. However, the requirement for ID scans to become verified has prompted conspiracy theories about Parler's retention and use of user information.[64][74]

Business and finances

As of June 2020, Parler has been funded by angel investors. In a June 27, 2020 interview with CNBC, Matze said he wanted to raise an institutional round of financing soon, although he expressed concerns that venture capitalists might not be interested in funding the company because of ideological differences.[39] Fortune wrote in June 2020 that the company planned to add advertising to the service soon.[21] They also planned to generate revenue based on an ad matching scheme whereby companies would be matched with Parler influencers to post sponsored content, with Parler taking a percentage of each deal.[21][63] Slate has questioned Parler's business model, writing that Parler's plan to rely on advertising revenue "seems far from foolproof" given the 2020 advertising boycotts of Facebook by some large brands who objected to hateful content on the platform.[23] NBC also questioned whether corporations would be interested in advertising alongside "controversial material" on Parler.[3] Matze said in an interview on June 29, 2020 that the business was not profitable.[75] As of November 2020, Parler had not added advertising to the platform, and had not received any known venture capital.[3]

As of November 2020, Parler had around 30 employees.[2] The company has not disclosed the identity of its owners; however, Dan Bongino publicly announced in June 2020 that he had purchased an "ownership stake" of unspecified value.[21][24] In November 2020, Matze wrote in a Parler post that Parler was owned by "myself, a small group of close friends and employees", and had as investors Bongino and Parler chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick.[3] The Wall Street Journal reported later that month that Parler was also financially backed by Rebekah Mercer, an investor known for her support of conservative individuals and organizations, including Steve Bannon, Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica.[2][76][77][78] After the Wall Street Journal published the report, Matze confirmed in a Parler post that the Mercers were funding Parler.[2][76]

In November 2020, a manipulated image circulated on social media of a Fox News chyron that appeared to report that George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist and the frequent target of antisemitic conspiracy theories, was a majority owner of Parler. Soros does not own Parler and Fox News never reported the claim; the image had been digitally altered from a photo of a television showing a Fox broadcast about a different subject.[79][80][81]

See also

References

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