The new social media platform Parler is going through its best and worst phase at the same time. After Facebook and Twitter began cracking down on misinformation and conspiracy theories related to the US election result, Parler emerged as the new free speech alternative where people could discuss everything freely.
Within a short period, Parler became one of the most downloaded apps on Apple's App Store. But thanks to content moderation policy, or the lack thereof, the app was taken down from both App Store and Google's Play Store. Now, Amazon too has taken action, kicking Parler out of its web-hosting service AWS Cloud.
Amazon in its letter said, "It's clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with Amazon's rules. We cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others."
Rise and Fall
Frustrated by Facebook and Twitter's "censorship" — content moderation policy — many right-wing supporters and US President Donald Trump's followers have switched to Parler in the last two years. While Trump himself is not present on Parler, many of his family members and staunch supporters including Texas senator Ted Cruz, Fox News anchors Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have their accounts on the platform.
After launching in 2018, the platform's popularity has surged in recent times, accumulating over 10 million users. With President Trump facing a ban from his megaphone Twitter on Saturday, Parler's popularity surged even further, topping the chart of the most downloaded apps on the App Store. But by Saturday evening, Parler faced an existential crisis. It was removed from Play Store, App Store and Amazon came after it, notifying Parler that it would be removed from its hosting service by Sunday night.
Parler CEO John Matze said that Parler might not be available on the internet for up to a week as the company shifted to a new hosting service. He called it a coordinated attack. "This was a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the market place. We were too successful too fast. You can expect the war on competition and free speech to continue, but don't count us out," Matze said in a parley.
Free Speech vs Fair Speech
The main reason behind Parler being booted by tech giants is its content policy. As Matze promoted the app as a free-speech alternative, the platform became a safe haven for spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories related to the US Presidential election and QAnon. Before the storming of the US Capitol, many Trump supporters were seen coordinating their actions on Parler besides promoting hate speech. Many Parler users called for Vice President Mike Pence's execution and Capitol building to be broken in.
Parler failed to moderate any content related to that, even though as per its community guidelines, it was not supposed to be used as a tool for "crime, civil torts or other unlawful acts". Unlike Twitter and Facebook whose moderators take action depending on the severity of a post, Parler completely depends on community reporting.
"We will remove reported member content that a reasonable and objective observer would believe constitutes or evidences such activity. We may also remove the accounts of members who use our platform in this way," Parler said in its guidelines.
Hence, if enough community members do not oppose or report a certain post that may contain unlawful activity, it may not be removed at all. Parler also does not limit posts' reach. Google and Apple both expressed concerns about the moderation problem and notified Parler multiple times. But as it failed to take any action, Parler was removed from both stores. As for Amazon, its employees demanded that the company removed Parler from its hosting service.