Saturday, May 15

What is Parler and why do tech giants avoid the ‘free speech’ social network?

As major social media tightened the screws on posts selling misinformation and inciting violence in the wake of the US Capitol siege, millions of supporters of President Trump turned to Parler.

The so-called “free speech-driven” app has become popular with users who have been blocked from Twitter, a situation that Trump himself finds himself in.

Silicone Valley has nearly gagged Trump online by removing his virtual megaphones in the form of his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, now Big Tech has also opposed Parler.

Here is what you need to know about the platform and why it has been suspended from the major app stores.

What is Parler?

One of its founders, John Matze, a conservative programmer based in Nevada who describes himself as a libertarian, said he created Parler in 2018 to offer a “free-speech-driven” alternative to major social platforms.

Users can post “without fear of being disqualified for their opinions,” according to the social network. Apart from this, two rules govern what is shared: criminal activity and spam are not allowed.

With these principles, the Parler application was placed in the main download lists of the Google and Apple stores, reaching the first place during the last months of 2020.

Its users soared to 8 million from 4.5 million amid electoral turmoil in the United States; As companies like Facebook and Twitter moved to thwart political disinformation, conservatives rejected more traditional platforms. Activity at Parler was 20 times higher than before.

While Trump does not have an account, some well-known conservatives have joined the platform, including his attorney Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity, Fox News political commentator, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Parler is reminiscent of Twitter in many ways, with “echoes” used to share posts, such as a retweet, and yellow badges for those who are “verified influencers,” where Twitter uses a blue mark.

In some cases, when posts are removed from the Twittersphere, they reappear for a second life on the newer platform.

But Parler nevertheless has fewer checks and balances on dangerous content than Twitter, which struggles to flag and block misinformation and spurs to violence following international pressure to do so.

Posts before the Capitol storming by Trump supporters saw users reference guns and violence, and some threads made reference to QAnon conspiracy theories.

What operating systems have banned it and why?

Amazon said on Sunday that it would disconnect Parler from its web host for violations of its guidelines, meaning the platform could stop working if a new host is not found Sunday night.

The e-commerce colossus’s move came after both Google and Apple pulled the app from their online shelves for failing to address threats of violence.

“In order for us to distribute an application through Google Play, we require that the applications implement strong moderation for atrocious content,” Google said in a statement.

“In light of this urgent and ongoing public safety threat, we will suspend the app’s listings on the Play Store until these issues are fixed.”

In response, Matze said: “We are not going to give in to politically motivated companies and authoritarians who hate free speech!”

Apple cited “content that threatens the well-being of others or is intended to incite violence or other illegal acts” for the reason that Parler was suspended from its own app store.

He gave the platform 24 hours to “remove all objectionable content from its application … as well as any content that refers to harm to people or attacks on government facilities now or at any future date.”

Parler was also asked to provide a plan “to moderate and filter this content” from its pages.

Matze attacked Apple, saying it was applying standards to its platform that it did not meet.

“Apparently they believe that Parler is responsible for ALL user-generated content on Parler, therefore (sic) by the same logic, Apple should be responsible for ALL actions taken by their phones,” he said.

What does the future hold for Parler, with big technology turning its back on him? Its founder says the Amazon snub could mean it might “be unavailable” for up to a week while it is remade “from scratch.”

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