Explained: What is Parler and why has it gone offline in the aftermath of Capitol siege?

What is Parler, and why have big tech companies taken such a strong action against what is a relatively unknown social network outside of the United States? We explain

Parler, an alternative social network popular with conservatives in the US, has literally gone offline after being booted out of Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store and denied hosting services by Amazon Web Services (AWS) after the recent violence at the US Capitol.

But what is Parler, and why have big tech companies taken such a strong action against what is a relatively unknown social network outside of the United States? We explain below

What is Parler and why is it in the news?

Parler is a micro-blogging social network, similar to Twitter. On Parler, one sees all the posts from everyone they follow in reverse chronological order. But unlike Twitter, Parler does not recommend content to users. It also claims it does not collect user data for privacy reasons. Further you cannot crosspost to other platforms. So there’s no sharing of your Parler post to Facebook or Twitter, though people do take screenshots and post to other platforms. It is believed to have around 10 million users globally and 8 million in the US, according to data by Sensor Tower analytics.

Over the past couple of years, the platform has become a hotbed for US conservatives, supporters of Donald Trump and those who believe in the QAnon conspiracy theories. In fact, after being kicked off from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Trump had indicated he would be moving to a new platform and Parler was seen as the likely candidate.

Parler pitches itself as a neutral platform in favour of free speech as enshrined in the American constitution, with no restrictions whatsoever. For instance, after the Capitol Hill violence, many of the posts on Parler called for mass executions of ‘left traitors’. Such content was not removed by Parler. The platform has seen a jump in its user base in recent months, especially in the runup to the US elections.

Parler launched in 2018 and is co-founded by John Matze, Jr. and Jared Thomson, with headquarters in Nevada. But Parler has another powerful backer: investor and co-founder Rebekah Mercer, daughter of billionaire hedge-fund investor Robert Mercer. The Mercer family has also contributed heavily to Donald Trump’s campaigns in the past. Mercer’s link to Parler was reported first by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). According to WSJ, Matze told the paper that Mercer’s backing to Parler “was dependent on the platform allowing users to control what they see.”

Why did Apple and Google remove Parler?

On January 8, two days after mob violence at the US Capitol both Apple and Google removed the Parler app from their respective app stores. Both companies had asked Parler to step up moderation on the platform and remove content which had glorified the violence.

Some of the posts on Parler called for “execution of traitors” referring to US Congressmen. The company refused to do this.

In a statement, Google said, “We recognise that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content.”

“We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues,” Apple said in a statement.

Why did Amazon remove Parler?

By Sunday, Amazon’s cloud hosting service AWS had also removed Parler, effectively rendering it out of service. AWS said Parler had violated its terms of service by allowing content, which was inciting violence.

According to BuzzFeed News, which first reported this, an AWS Trust and Safety Team warned Parler about the repeated calls for violence, again a violation of its policies. The email read, “Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms. It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.”

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In response, Parler has sued Amazon for violating the contract and called the ban politically motivated. Parler is now considering moving to Epik, which is a domain registrar known for hosting far-right extremist content. Epik also hosts another platform called Gab, which is pitching itself as another ‘free speech’ platform, but is proliferated by extremist content.

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