Parler

Parler
Parler - Logo (2020).svg
Screenshot
Andy Biggs' Parler feed.png
A Parler feed
Type of businessPrivate
Type of site
Social networking service
Founded2018[1]
HeadquartersHenderson, Nevada
Founder(s)John Matze, Jr.
Jared Thomson
Rebekah Mercer[1]
CEOJohn Matze, Jr.
IndustryInternet
Employees30[2]
URLparler.com
RegistrationRequired
Users2.3 million (active)
as of December 2020[3]
15 million (total)
as of January 2021[4]
LaunchedSeptember 2018; 2 years ago (2018-09)[5]
Current statusOffline since January 10, 2021[6][7]

Parler (/ˈpɑːrlər/) is an American alt-tech microblogging and social networking service. Parler has a significant user base of Donald Trump supporters, conservatives, conspiracy theorists, and right-wing extremists.[8][9][10][11] Posts on the service often contain far-right content,[16] antisemitism,[23] and conspiracy theories such as QAnon.[27] Journalists have described Parler as an alternative to Twitter, and users include those banned from mainstream social networks or opposing their moderation policies.[8][11][28]

Launched in August 2018, Parler markets itself as a free speech-focused and unbiased alternative to mainstream social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. However, journalists have criticized this as being a cover for its far-right userbase.[22][10][11] Journalists and users have also criticized the service for content policies that are more restrictive than the company portrays and sometimes more restrictive than those of its competitors.[29][30][31][32] Some left-wing users have been banned from Parler for challenging the prevailing viewpoints on the site, criticizing Parler, or creating parody accounts.[33][34][35]

Parler has not publicly disclosed the identities of its owners besides founder John Matze.[30] Rebekah Mercer, an investor known for her contributions to conservative individuals and organizations, is a co-founder of the company, and conservative political commentator Dan Bongino has said he is an owner.[1][36] As of January 2021, according to Parler, the service had about 15 million total users.[4] As of December 2020, they had 2.3 million active users.[3]

After reports that Parler was used to coordinate the 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol, several companies denied it their services.[37] Apple and Google removed Parler's mobile app from their app stores, and Parler went offline on January 10, 2021, when Amazon Web Services canceled its hosting services.[38][6][7]

History

Parler was founded by John Matze Jr. and Jared Thomson in Henderson, Nevada, in August 2018. The company's name was taken from the French word "parler", meaning "to speak".[1][39][28] 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).[40][41] After The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2020 that conservative investor Rebekah Mercer had funded Parler, Mercer described herself in a Parler post as having "started Parler" with Matze, and CNN listed Mercer as a co-founder of the company.[2][1][39] Matze is the company's chief executive officer, and Thomson serves as the chief technology officer.[5] Both are alumni of the University of Denver computer science program, and some other Parler senior staff also attended the school.[28]

2018–2019

Following its launch in 2018, Parler's user base grew to 100,000 users by May of the following year.[42][40] A December 2018 tweet by conservative activist Candace Owens brought 40,000 of those users to Parler, causing Parler's servers to malfunction.[40][43] The service initially attracted some Republican personalities, including then-Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, Utah Senator Mike Lee, and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, as well as some who had been banned from other social media networks, such as right-leaning activists and commentators Gavin McInnes, Laura Loomer, and Milo Yiannopoulos.[8][40] 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 join the service.[8]

In June 2019, Parler said its user base more than doubled after around 200,000 accounts from Saudi Arabia signed up to the network. Largely supporters of 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 had been supportive of the Saudi government, which Twitter had described as "inauthentic" accounts in an "electronic army" pushing the Saudi government's agenda.[8][44] The influx of new accounts to Parler caused some service interruptions, making the site at times unusable.[44] 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.[8] Some of the Saudi users tweeted the '#MAGA' hashtag and photos of President Trump with the Saudi royal family in order to curry favor with the Trump-supporting and far-right users on the service.[44] The Saudi accounts found a mixed reception among the existing user base; though some welcomed the Saudi users, others made Islamophobic remarks, and some expressed beliefs that the new accounts were bots.[8]

2020

In June 2020, Dan Bongino (pictured) announced he had purchased an "ownership stake" in Parler.[36] The company has declined to provide a full list of owners.[30]

Parler experienced a surge in signups in mid-2020.[45] 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".[31][46][47][48] In response, Parler published a "Declaration of Internet Independence" modeled after the United States Declaration of Independence, and began using the "#Twexit" hashtag (a portmanteau of "Twitter" and "Brexit"). Describing Twitter as a "Tech Tyrant" that censored conservatives, the campaign encouraged Twitter users to migrate to Parler.[49] Conservative commentator Dan Bongino announced on June 16 that he had purchased an "ownership stake" in Parler, in an effort to "fight back against" what he described as "Tech Tyrants" Facebook and Twitter.[36] Parscale, who at the time was managing the Trump campaign, endorsed Parler in a tweet on June 18, 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."[45]

On June 19, right-wing English media personality Katie Hopkins was permanently suspended from Twitter for violating their policies on "hateful conduct".[12][50] 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, and said they would donate the money they had collected to Black Lives Matter groups, a movement Hopkins had mocked in the past. Parler CEO Matze made a public apology, with Parler acknowledging that the impersonator had been "verified by an employee improperly".[12] Hopkins herself joined Parler on June 20, with Matze posting that he had personally verified her account.[51][52] 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.[12]

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.[53][54] 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".[55] 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.[54]

Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing President of Brazil, joined Parler on July 13;[56][57] Four months earlier in March 2020, Twitter had removed some of President Bolsonaro's posts for violating their rules on spreading disinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.[57][58] Earlier in July, his son Flávio Bolsonaro had endorsed Parler on Twitter. As a result, Parler experienced a wave of signups from Brazil in July.[57] According to Bloomberg News on July 15, 2020, Brazilian users made up over half of all Parler signups that month.[45]

On October 1 2020, Reuters reported 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, 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 was prone to fraud, that President Trump was infected with coronavirus by leftist activists, and that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was a "sexual predator".[59] Axios reported 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 had 14,000 on Parler.[60] Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all took actions to suspend the accounts from their platforms.[61] 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.[59]

Also in October, as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube acted to ban content supporting the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory,[62] thousands of QAnon proponents migrated to Parler.[63][9] 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.[9]

Parler experienced a wave of signups following the 2020 U.S. presidential election from American conservatives, concerned that their posts—or those of other conservatives on mainstream social networks—would be affected by the platforms' efforts to quash misinformation about the election.[9][64][65] 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 Stop the Steal conspiracy theory, which alleged widespread electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential election.[66][67] The surge had largely abated by December 2020, with downloads of the app returning to numbers similar to before the election.[68][3]

A verified account on Parler claiming to be Ron Watkins, the former site administrator of 8chan and son of 8chan owner Jim Watkins, made several posts on November 15 2020, appearing to confirm theories that his father was Q, the anonymous figure behind the QAnon conspiracy theory.[69] It was later determined that Aubrey Cottle, a security researcher and co-founder of Anonymous, had taken advantage of Parler security flaws to change the name of an already-verified Parler account, giving it the appearance of belonging to and having been verified as Watkins.[70] This incident led to a feud between Watkins and Parler investor Dan Bongino, with Watkins publicly criticizing Parler's security on Twitter and describing the service as "compromised". Bongino responded by tweeting insults at Watkins.[71][72]

2021

Parler was among the social media services used to plan the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.[73][74][75][76] According to BuzzFeed News, after the riot at the Capitol, Parler had been "overrun" with death threats, encouragement of violence, and calls for Trump supporters to join another armed march on Washington, D.C. on the day before the inauguration of Joe Biden.[7] Activists, including Sleeping Giants, and employees of technology companies that had been providing services to Parler began to pressure those companies, which included Google, Apple, and Amazon, to deny service to Parler.[4]

Parler experienced a wave of downloads after Twitter permanently suspended President Donald Trump from their platform due to his remarks about the storming of the Capitol. This led Parler to become the top downloaded app on the Apple App store on January 8.[77]

Shutdown by service providers

On January 8, two days after the storming of the United States Capitol, Google announced that it was pulling Parler from the Google Play Store, contending that its lack of "moderation policies and enforcement" posed a "public safety threat".[78][79] Also on January 8, Apple informed Parler that they had received complaints about its role in the coordination of the riot in Washington D.C., the existence of "objectionable content" on the service, and that they had observed that "the app also appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities", in violation of Parler's own guidelines forbidding such content. Apple requested Parler submit a "moderation improvement plan" within 24 hours or face removal from the app store. On Parler, Matze posted that Parler would not "cave to pressure", and accused Apple of being anti-competitive.[80] Apple followed through with their warning the next day, removing Parler from the app store on January 9.[81] Apple CEO Tim Cook later explained that in the company's view, "free speech and incitement of violence" do not have "an intersection".[82] Cloud communications company Twilio ended service to Parler, which made the service's two-factor authentication system stop working; Okta also denied them access to their identity management service, resulting in Parler losing access to some of their software tools.[4] In addition, the database company ScyllaDB terminated its relationship with Parler, who had been using Scylla's Enterprise database.[83]

On January 9, Amazon announced that it would suspend Parler from Amazon Web Services, effective at 11:59 p.m. PST the next day. Echoing Google's rationale for dropping its version of the Parler app, Amazon said that Parler's failure to police violent content made the site "a very real risk to public safety".[7][84][85] Parler went offline when Amazon withdrew its cloud computing services as scheduled.[6][86] On January 11, Parler sued Amazon under antitrust law, saying that the suspension of services was "apparently motivated by political animus", and had been carried out with the intention of benefiting Twitter by reducing competition.[87]

Some applauded the technology companies' decisions to deny service to Parler. Others raised concerns about private enterprises determining what remains online. Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told The New York Times that he was concerned about neutrality when it came to Internet infrastructure providers such as Amazon AWS and app stores.[88] Evelyn Douek, a lecturer and content moderation researcher at Harvard Law School, said to The Wall Street Journal that she thought an argument could be made to defend the infrastructure providers' decision to deny service to platforms who don't adequately moderate content, but wondered if similar amounts of violent content might exist elsewhere in platforms they were serving.[4]

After the shutdown, users of Parler were reported to have migrated to other alt-tech websites including CloutHub, Gab, MeWe, Minds, Wimkin, Rumble, DLive, BitChute, as well as encrypted messaging services including Telegram and Signal.[89][90]

Content scraping

Following the storming of the Capitol and just before Parler went offline, a researcher scraped roughly 80 terabytes of public Parler posts. The posts scraped make up 99% of publicly-accessible Parler posts, including more than 1 million videos, which maintained GPS metadata identifying the exact locations of where the videos were recorded. The researcher said her intention was to make a public record of "very incriminating" evidence against those who took part in the storming. The data dump was posted online, and the researcher has said the data will eventually be made available by the Internet Archive.[91][92] According to Ars Technica and Wired, the reason the researcher was able to scrape the data so easily was due to the Parler website's poor coding and poor security.[92][93] According to Wired, although all posts downloaded by the researcher were public, because Parler didn't scrub metadata, GPS coordinates of many users' homes had likely been exposed.[93] As of January 15, 2021, Gizmodo had mapped out the locations of around 70,000 of the GPS coordinates linked to videos scraped from Parler.[94]

Attempts to return online

Matze wrote in a Parler post on January 9 that Parler could be unavailable for a week as they worked to "rebuild from scratch" and move to a new service provider.[81] In an interview with Fox News on January 10, Matze said that Parler had faced trouble in finding a new service provider, contradicting a previous Parler post in which he had stated that many vendors were vying for their business.[95] He also said that others had refused to work with Parler: "Every vendor, from text message services to email providers to our lawyers, all ditched us, too, on the same day."[95][88] On January 10, Parler transferred their domain name registration to Epik, a domain registrar and web hosting company known for hosting far-right websites such as Gab and Infowars.[96][97]

According to a January 12 Wall Street Journal report, other cloud hosting platforms that could potentially host Parler, would be Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, or the Oracle Cloud platform. As of publication, Parler had not contacted Microsoft, and would not be using Oracle for cloud hosting; Google declined to comment, but the Journal noted, that Google had denied Parler a position in their app store. The Journal also noted, that Parler could consider using smaller cloud hosting companies, but that some technologists doubted such companies' ability to provide stable hosting to such a heavily-used service. One such smaller provider, DigitalOcean, let it be known, that they would not accept Parler as a customer.[97]

Interviewed by Reuters on January 13, Matze said that he did not know if or when Parler would return to operation.[83]

On January 17, Matze posted a message on the site's homepage, promising to "welcome all of you back soon".[98] Matze also claimed that Parler could be back online by the end of January.[99] The domain was registered with Epik.[100] Vice noted that through this move, Amazon Web Services was again indirectly providing services to Parler, as Epik uses AWS to host many of their DNS servers.[101] The website, which consisted only of a static page without any of the functionality of the Parler service, was hosted by the Russian-owned cloud services company DDoS-Guard.[102][103]

Usage

Parler had fewer than 1 million users until early 2020.[20] In the last week of June 2020, it was estimated that the Parler app had more than 1.5 million daily users.[54] 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.[29][45] 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.[32] The Parler app was downloaded nearly a million times in the week following Election Day in the United States on November 3, and became the most popular free app on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.[66] Parler remained the most downloaded app in the United States for five days in early November.[71] The New York Times reported that Parler had added 3.5 million users in a single week,[17] and during that month the service had about 4 million active users, and over 10 million total users.[65][2] In December 2020, Parler had around 2.3 million daily active users.[3] Fast Company reported that as of December 5, both the number of daily active users and the rate of new downloads had dropped from their November peak, and CNN reported on December 10 that downloads had "plummeted" and were returning to the numbers Parler was experiencing before the election.[68][3] Parler again topped the App Store downloads chart on January 8, 2021, shortly after President Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter and also shortly before Parler was removed from the App Store by Apple.[77][81] As of January 2021, Parler reported having 15 million total users.[4]

Despite the wave in signups in mid-2020, and the larger surge in November of that year, some journalists and researchers 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.[104] Bloomberg News also reported that downloads of the app had substantially slowed following the initial mid-2020 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.[45] Parler's user base, though it grew substantially in mid- and late 2020, remained much smaller than that of its competitors.[29][30][43] 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.[65] Slate wrote that alternative social networks like Parler "normally ... just don't get that big".[32] When Parler's download and usage activity diminished following the November surge in popularity, the vice president of insights at the app analytics company Apptopia said to CNN, "The data trends resemble a fad, and a short-lived one at that... Parler had a very good spike. People were interested, it's in the news, it receives downloads.... But it appears, in our data, that there is no staying power."[3]

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.[11][29][43][105] 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.[49] 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.[106][24] Some have described Parler as a backup in case Twitter bans them.[45][106] CNN interviewed Trump supporters in December 2020 about their social media use and found that "almost none" had completely abandoned Twitter and Facebook.[107] The same month, OneZero reported that Parler users were gathering in Facebook groups to complain that Parler's interface was difficult to operate, to share concerns about having to submit identification to be verified, and to express regrets that their friends and family had not joined.[108]

User base

Parler has a significant user base of Trump supporters, conservatives, conspiracy theorists, and right-wing extremists.[8][9][10][32][44] 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 such as the terrorist group Atomwaffen Division.[10][20] Leaked GPS coordinates from Parler also revealed that users of the site include police officers in the United States and members of the US Armed Forces.[109] Parler was also used by at least 14 UK Conservative Party Members of Parliament; several ministers including cabinet minister Michael Gove and a number of prominent UK conservative commentators joined the app.[110]

Researchers, journalists, and users of Parler have observed the lack of ideological diversity on the service,[71][43][111] and that Parler has served as an echo chamber for right-wing extremists and Trump supporters.[116] 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.[43][111] 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.[32] In June 2020, Parler's CEO 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.[43][54]

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 extremist 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.[117] Angelo Carusone, president of the progressive media watchdog group Media Matters for America, has said of Parler, "The self-segmenting of this group to Parler will intensify their extremism. No doubt about that. But it will also weaken the influence of the right wing by siphoning off a segment of users, many of whom will be the most engaged users."[26]

Parler is one of a number of alternative social network platforms, including Gab and BitChute, that are popular with people banned from mainstream networks such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, and Instagram.[118][119] 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.[120]

Content

Parler is known for its far-right and alt-right,[16] antisemitic,[23] anti-feminist,[40] and Islamophobic content.[40] Many posts on Parler contain misinformation and conspiracy theories.[27] 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.[9] 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.[66] The Forward and The Bulwark observed the presence of antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as others.[11][13] 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."[11] 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 balogna, this is a place for people to fester in their own bigotry."[11] 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."[11]

In late 2020, Parler revised their site guidelines, which had previously prohibited pornography and obscenity, to permit the posting of "adult sex or nudity".[49][121] A review by The Washington Post in December that year found that pornography was "surging" on Parler, and "threaten[ed] to intrude on users not seeking sexual material". The Post observed that pornographic videos began playing without label or warning, and that a filter to label and require an additional click to view explicit content was not being uniformly applied to pornographic images. The report also noted that conspiracy theory content overlapped with pornography, observing that searches for QAnon-related hashtags retrieved "numerous pornographic images".[121][71][122]

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.[29][30] 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."[54] The service has been popular among conservatives who allege Twitter has been biased against them when moderating content or flagging misinformation.[9][54]

However, the site has been criticized by users and journalists 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.[12][31][32][123] Parler's guidelines disallow content including blackmail, support for terrorism, false rumors, promoting marijuana, and "fighting words" directed towards others.[46][54] The site initially forbade the posting of pornography, obscenity, or indecency, but later modified its guidelines to allow the posting of "adult sex or nudity".[121][70] Parler says that their moderation 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.[31] 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."[34] Wired wrote in November 2020 that Parler enforced its guidelines inconsistently, and that the service either "prioritizes conservative speech rather than free speech" or "is set up to amplify its influencers, rather than create a space for anyone to be heard".[124]

In June and July 2020, Parler banned a spate of left-wing accounts, including parody accounts and accounts that were critical of Parler or the prevailing viewpoints on the service.[29][46][35][33] Mic wrote that Parler had used the personal information provided during signup to ban those they had identified as "teenage leftists";[49] Will Duffield of the Cato Institute wrote that Matze had also apparently instituted a blanket ban on antifa supporters.[125] After a surge in popularity among conservatives in November 2020, The Independent noted that Parler had again been accused of removing left-leaning users and removing content that contradicted or was critical of popular opinions expressed there.[34] In January 2021, Ethan Zuckerman and Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci wrote in a report for the Knight First Amendment Institute that Parler's invitation on its front page, "Speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being 'deplatformed' for your views", "often isn’t borne out in reality as Parler regularly bans trolls who hold opposing viewpoints".[126]

On June 30, 2020, after the wave of bans, Matze published a Parler post outlining some of the service's rules.[29][31] Some of them, such as one asking users not to publish photos of feces, were described by The Independent as "bizarre."[127] Slate and Gizmodo noted that the top reply to Matze's post identified that "Twitter allows four of the five things that Parler censors."[31][32] 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.[30][32][46][106] 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.[128]

Matze told The Washington Post that he does not see Parler's guidelines as contradictory to its stance on free speech.[29] 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."[129][130] As of July 2020, Parler had a team of 200 volunteer moderators.[29] Matze told Fortune magazine the same month that he wanted to expand the moderation team to 1,000 volunteers.[48] In November 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported all moderation was still being handled by volunteers, which Parler calls "community jurors".[2] In January 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported that Parler had increased its moderation team to 600 people, and began paying them. They also had begun hiring full-time employees to moderate the service.[4]

In January 2021, Parler executives acknowledged that rules-violating content had remained on the platform, which they attributed to their volunteer team of moderators being overwhelmed by large backlogs of posts to review. Parler executives also reported there had been an increase in calls for violence on the platform leading up to the riots at the Capitol. Parler's chief of policy, Amy Peikoff, told The Wall Street Journal that she had directed moderators to report such threats to law enforcement, and that she "was concerned that there was actually going to be some sort of violence on the 6th."[4]

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. It was formerly available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.[127] Users who register for accounts are able to follow the accounts of other users.[131] 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.[45][131][132] 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.[30] A direct messaging feature is also built into the platform, allowing users to privately contact each other.[30] Public figures are verified on the app with a gold badge, and parody accounts are identified with a purple badge.[54] Anyone who verifies their identity by providing government-issued photo identification during signup is identified with a red badge.[30] Parler refers to users of its service as Parleyers.[29]

Forbes described Parler as "like a barebones Twitter" in June 2020.[131] The same month, Fast Company wrote that Parler was "well-designed and organized", also noting its similarity to Twitter.[113] The Conversation described the service in July 2020 as "very similar to Twitter in appearance and function, albeit clunkier".[133] CNN has said Parler resembles a "mashup of Twitter and Instagram".[3][134]

Registration and verification

Creating an account and using Parler is free. Signup requires both an e-mail address and phone number.[49] 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.[132][30] In order to join Parler's "influencer network", the company may ask for users' social security or tax identification numbers.[33]

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.[132][135] Matze has also said that the service requires users to provide their phone number because people who can stay anonymous online say "nasty things".[33]

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 and bots.[132][136] 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.[30] Spammers have exploited this two-tier verification system by providing documentation to verify their identity, obtaining a red badge, and changing their account name. The red badge, indicating that a real person operates the account, persisted after the name change.[137]

Security

Several publications and researchers have criticized Parler's security.

In November 2020, a security researcher and co-founder of the hacktivist group Anonymous, Aubrey Cottle, renamed an already-verified Parler account to spoof the identity of Ron Watkins, the former site administrator of 8chan. Speaking to The Washington Post after the hoax, Cottle described Parler's security as a "joke".[70] The Daily Dot also described "what appeared to be some pretty serious security flaws" in Parler in a report pertaining to the incident.[72] Watkins himself was vocally critical of Parler and its security on Twitter after the spoofing incident, describing the service as "compromised".[71][72]

Also in mid-November, security researcher Kevin Abosch claimed to have discovered weaknesses in Parler's user verification information, alleging 5,000 accounts were compromised in July 2020. Matze calling the alleged hack "fake", adding that the service is protected by "multiple layers of security".[138][139][140] As of late November, no evidence that the site used vulnerable WordPress technology as claimed had surfaced.[141][142]

In January 2021, following the storming of the Capitol and just before Parler went offline, a researcher scraped roughly 80 terabytes of public Parler posts. The scraped data included more than 1 million videos, which maintained GPS metadata identifying the exact locations of where the videos were recorded, as well as text and images. Some of the data included posts that users had attempted to delete.[143][91] The researcher stated her intention was to make a public record of "very incriminating" evidence against those who took part in the storming. The data dump was posted online, and the researcher has said the data will eventually be made available by the Internet Archive.[144][92] According to Ars Technica and Wired, the reason the researcher was able to scrape the data so easily was due to the Parler website's poor coding quality and security flaws. Posts were numbered incrementally, and there was no authentication or rate limiting on the API, allowing researchers to exploit the vulnerability caused by insecure direct object reference. Furthermore, deleted posts were "soft deleted": a flag was added to hide them, but they were not actually deleted.[92][93][145] According to Wired, although all posts downloaded by the researcher were public, because Parler didn't scrub metadata, GPS coordinates of many users' homes had likely been exposed.[93]

Business and finances

Parler was founded in 2018 by John Matze and Jared Thomson. In November 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that Rebekah Mercer, an investor known for her support of conservative individuals and organizations, had helped fund Parler. After the report was published, Mercer described herself as having "started Parler" with Matze, and she has been described by CNN as a co-founder of the company.[2][1][39]

Parler has not disclosed the identities of its owners; however, Dan Bongino publicly announced in June 2020 that he had purchased an "ownership stake" of unspecified value.[30][36] 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.[65] 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.[146][147][124]

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.[54] Fortune wrote in June 2020 that the company planned to add advertising to the service soon.[30] 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.[30][131] 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.[32] NBC also questioned whether corporations would be interested in advertising alongside "controversial material" on Parler.[65] Matze said in an interview on June 29, 2020 that the business was not profitable.[148] As of January 2021, Parler had not added advertising to the platform, and had not received any known venture capital.[65][145]

As of November 2020, Parler had around 30 employees.[2]

See also

References

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