After failing to moderate content related to hate speech and violence, social media platform Parler was banned from Google Play Store on Saturday (January 9). In recent times, due to strict content moderation on Twitter and Facebook, Parler emerged as the go-to platform for US President Donald Trump's right-wing supporters. But following the storming of the US Capitol on January 6 that led to five deaths including a police officer, it was clear that many of the rioters had coordinated on Parler, forcing both Google and Apple to issue notices.
Before Google announced its ban, Apple had also given a 24-hour notice to the platform to moderate content threatening to remove the app from its App Store. Google in its defense, said that all apps on its platform require moderation for user-generated content. As Parler failed to remove content that incited violence, it was forced to remove the app.
"We have reminded Parler of this clear policy in recent months. We're aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US. In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app's listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues," a Google spokesperson told BleepingComputer in a statement.
Content moderation has been one of the big challenges that social media platforms have faced over the years. The three biggies of social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — have been accused of being too lenient and too strict at the same time. That gave birth to Parler in 2018, another social media platform with a motto of "be yourself", meaning anyone can write anything without the fear of shadow banning or moderation.
As Twitter and Facebook began a crackdown on misinformation following the US Presidential election, many Trump supporters switched to Parler. While President Trump is not on the platform yet, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Fox News anchor Sean Hannity — both Trump supporters — have garnered millions of followers on Parler. Cruz has 4.9 million followers while Hannity has 7.1 million followers.
With promises to be unbiased in moderation, Parler has become a popular platform in recent times becoming one of the most downloaded apps on both iOS and Android. As of November 2020, Parler had over 10 million users but the number should be higher following the election.
However, Parler's no rules policy was taken advantage of during the Capitol riots. Many Trump supporters coordinated their action on Parler before attending the protest against certifying Joe Biden's victory on January 6. They posted about gun violence during the protest, executing Vice President Mike Pence and storming the Capitol amongst other things before the riots without Parler moderating anything.
That led to the inevitable scenes at Washington DC. But despite that, Parler has defended its policies. The company's chief executive John Matze said there was "no way to organize anything" on Parler and that it was Facebook's events and groups that were used to coordinate actions.
"We will not cave to pressure from anti-competitive actors! We will and always have enforced our rules against violence and illegal activity. But we WONT cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!" Matze posted on Parler.
As expected, the ban from Play Store drew mixed reactions. While many were happy with the decision, Trump supporters wanted to move away from Twitter and migrate to Parler completely. Some called the decision limiting free speech.
Section 230 and Future of Parler
While Parler claims to be innocent and unbiased and immune to censorship, the abrogation of Section 230 will not be good for the platform. On Friday, President Trump and South Carolina's GOP Senator Lindsey Graham once again reiterated the importance of revoking Section 230 to protect free speech. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (1996) shields internet companies from any legal liability arising from content on their platforms. While the GOP and right-wing supporters believe revoking Section 230 would be a good lesson for the big tech companies, in reality, it will be the opposite.
If the tech companies are held accountable for user-generated content on their platform, they will be more motivated to censor the content to avoid legal liability. For instance, the abrogation of Section 230 will lead to Parler being held responsible for its users posting on gun violence or storming Capitol. Will Matze talk about being yourself, then?