Controversial social media site Parler, has been facing some problems regarding spreading of misinformation and the influence of several far-right groups. The platform became the most-downloaded free app in the Apple App Store on the weekend of November 8 - the day major media outlets called the election for Joe Biden. It was deplatfomized by Silicon Valley giants Apple, Google and Amazon after the storming of Capitol Hill. This article explains what is parler, how it influences people and what is the controversy about it.
What is Parler?
Parler is a social media website founded by Rebekah Mercer, John Matze and Jared Thomson. The platform refers to itself as an “unbiased social media” where people can “speak freely and express yourself openly without fear of being 'deplatformed' for your views," according to its website and App Store description.
The app mainly attracts conservative users—some of the Parler’s active users among public figures include Fox News host Sean Hannity, far-right activist Laura Loomer, radio personality Mark Levin, Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Devin Nunes. Eric Trump and Donald Trump's presidential campaign also have accounts on the platform.
With big tech companies like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram taking strict actions against the ex-President Donald Trump, and flagging misinformation, Parler became the free for all space for the conservatives.
Problems and influences
According to some reports, members of the Proud Boys, adherents of conspiracy theory QAnon, anti-government extremists, and white supremacists all openly promote their views on Parler. Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of bigotry can also be found among their ideas.
The co-founder of the website, Rebekah Mercer and her family came into national politics in 2016 elections when they donated more than $23 million to groups backing conservative candidates.
Rebekah Mercer is widely reported to have persuaded then-candidate Trump to reshuffle his campaign organization and hire Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to help run his presidential bid in the final stretch of the 2016 election.
The shutdown: opinions on Parler and the monopoly of tech giants
The social networking site went dark when Amazon stopped providing it cloud hosting services after it was revealed the platform was used to help organize the Capitol Hill attack on January 6—which left five people dead. Amazon's actions were followed by Apple and Google that banned the Parler mobile app from their respective stores.
After the app went offline, it made a comeback after several days, registered with Epik as its provider. But Epik denies in an official statement that the company had any “contact or discussions with Parler in any form regarding our becoming their registrar or hosting provider.”
A Reuters report, citing an infrastructure expert, pointed to a Russian tech firm as supporting Parler's return online. It said that the IP address Epik used is owned by DDos-Guard, which is “controlled by two Russian men and provides services including protection from distributed denial of service attacks.”
The united Silicon Valley attack began on January 8, when Apple emailed Parler and gave them 24 hours to prove they had changed their moderation practices or else face removal from their App Store. The letter claimed: “We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property.”
It ended with this warning: “To ensure there is no interruption of the availability of your app on the App Store, please submit an update and the requested moderation improvement plan within 24 hours of the date of this message. If we do not receive an update compliant with the App Store Review Guidelines and the requested moderation improvement plan in writing within 24 hours, your app will be removed from the App Store.” The next day, Apple removed it from its App Store.
This was a kind of monopoly and alleged misuse of power by the tech giants to ban the website, but, in October, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law issued a 425-page report concluding that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google all possess monopoly power and are using that power anti-competitively. According to the report, iOS and Android hold an effective duopoly in mobile operating systems. However, the report concludes, Apple does have a monopolistic hold over what you can do with an iPhone. You can only put apps on your phone through the Apple App Store, and Apple has total gatekeeper control over that App Store.
Not only did leading left-wing politicians not object but some of them were the ones who pleaded with Silicon Valley to use their power this way. After the internet-policing site Sleeping Giants flagged several Parler posts that called for violence, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked: “What are @Apple and @GooglePlay doing about this?” Once Apple responded by removing Parler from its App Store — a move that House Democrats just three months earlier warned was dangerous antitrust behaviour — she praised Apple and then demanded to know: “Good to see this development from @Apple. @GooglePlay what are you going to do about apps being used to organize violence on your platform?” The same steps were taken by Google later.
These actions showed the amount of power the Silicon Valley giants have, which can actually control the other company’s fate. The powers which were revealed by the steps taken by these companies were dangerous but at the same time helpful when done for the good. The liberal New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg called herself “disturbed by just how awesome [tech giants’] power is” and added that “it’s dangerous to have a handful of callow young tech titans in charge of who has a megaphone and who does not.” She nonetheless praised these “young tech titans” for using their “dangerous” power to ban Trump and destroy Parler. Her opinion shows that liberals are happy until Silicon Valley censorship is used to silence their adversaries, not on themselves.
As put by Glenn Greenwald “Liberals like Goldberg are concerned only that Silicon Valley censorship powers might one day be used against people like them, but are perfectly happy as long as it is their adversaries being deplatformed and silenced (Facebook and other platforms have for years banned marginalized people like Palestinians at Israel’s behest, but that is of no concern to U.S. liberals).”
Clearly, the way Parler was misused for spreading propaganda had to be stopped as it led to one of the worst days in American history – the storm of the Capitol Hill – but the way they were censored and banned from the internet by the virtual unity of Silicon Valley giants Apple, Google and Amazon, has brought forth another dangerous fact to the world regarding how much power these companies hold. And if misused, they can prove to be more dangerous than Parler itself. But as long as they are using the power and censorship to maintain peace and lawfulness, even the liberals don’t have any problems with it, at least for now.