Parler, the largely unmodified social network popular with conservatives, often found fans by pampering Big Tech. But after the site was shut down by the Internet over the weekend, it’s becoming clearer than ever how even fringed services should rely on mainstream technology providers. Now, Parler is apparently trying to rebuild – with or without Big Tech’s help.
On Monday, it was reported that Parler had registered his domain with Epik, a web hosting service that previously housed Gab, the far-right forum used by Pittsburgh synagogue shooters. Right now, it is unclear where this effort lies: Epik had previously said it had no relationship with Parler, although at least one manager at the company seems open to working with the platform.
Parliament’s shutdown comes in the wake of the January 6 uprising, in which a crowd of people protesting the results of the 2020 presidential election broke into the US Capitol. Prior to the uprising, posts on Parler called for violence in Washington when President-elect Joe Biden’s victory ended on Capitol Hill, and then the platform continued to host violent content, including threats against Vice President Mike Pence.
Several major technology companies, including Google, Amazon and Apple, severed ties with Parler in the days following the event. This effectively brought the platform offline around the time that Facebook indefinitely suspended and Twitter permanently banned President Trump.
“Civil society and others raised concerns about Parler long before last week for the kind of extremism, racism, anti-Semitism that has flourished in this place,” said Isedua Oribhabor, a U.S. policy analyst at the digital rights group Access Now, who described the platform as “a place , which has been attractive to extremists because of their lax or non-existent form of content moderation. ”
By closing Parler, several technology companies said they were trying to reduce the risk of violence and force the platform to adopt a more aggressive moderation of calls for violence. The collapse of Parlor also showcased the enormous power of the technology industry to control what is displayed on the web and in app stores. Now that Parler is looking for ways to get back online, it’s facing an upward battle to rebuild its former self without Big Tech’s help. This or that could be something else and more strictly moderated.
To get back online, it’s possible that Parler is changing its tone in terms of content moderation
In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol violence, politicians, activist groups, and employees of companies working with Parler began calling for action against the platform for its role in inciting the uprising.
Google was the first to launch Parler from its Play Store on January 8th. Apple gave Parler 24 hours to implement stricter moderation policies, but after it fell short, Apple removed Parler from its App Store on January 9th. Amazon suspended Parler from its web hosting service on January 10 after pressure from employees of the company as well as at least one legislator, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). Amazon told Parler in a letter obtained by Recode that violent content on the platform – and its lack of moderation – meant that Parler violated Amazon’s Terms of Service agreement.
There is some indication that Parler may be trying to change its approach to moderation to get back online, though it is not clear how willing Amazon would be to work with the platform again.
When Apple reached out to Parler, who threatened to ban the app, Parler volunteered to set up a “task force” for content moderation so far, though Apple said the effort was not enough and did not meet its requirements. With the threat of being launched, Parler told Amazon that it planned to more aggressively moderate its content with volunteers, which Amazon told Parler would “not work in light of the rapidly growing number of violent posts.” Parler also removed some content after being contacted by both Amazon and Apple, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A Google spokesman told Recode that Parler was suspended “until” it addressed its moderation issues, and Apple made a similar statement.
While Parlor’s leadership has historically been challenging its lack of moderation – and critical of companies such as Facebook and Twitter for their moderation – Parler CEO John Matze released a statement Sunday that apparently returned from this position, which he had openly expressed just days before.
“Parler is not a monitoring app, so we can not just write a few algorithms that quickly find 100% of the offensive content, especially during periods of rapid growth and seemingly coordinated malicious attacks that accompany this growth,” Matze said, adding, that the platform was working to improve and would welcome “feedback”.
Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that Parler users were closely involved in the planning and conduct of the Capitol uprising. After a security researcher archived almost all of Parler’s posts – including GPS coordinates for users’ video locations – before Amazon launched it from its servers, a Gizmodo analysis showed that several Parler users ventured deep into the US Capitol on January 6th. users encourage and celebrate the raid on the Capitol, some seemed to be the literal center of events.
Pearls could return without Big Tech’s help, but it could take time
When Reddit banned a subordinate pro-Trump called the_donald last June, amid an expansion of its hateful policies, forum members turned to the messaging platform Discord before being banned from that platform as well. When the far-right right-wing conspiracy theory site 8chan was dropped by its service providers after the El Paso massacre in 2019, it was eventually reformed as 8kun. And when Gab, a right-wing social network used by Pittsburgh synagogue shooters, was kicked out by GoDaddy, Epik brought the site back online.
Pearls may follow in the services of these fringe to get back online, a complicated effort that can take some time. With many platforms reluctant to work with Parler – The Wall Street Journal reported that Oracle will not provide Parler cloud services and that Microsoft has no hosting contract with Parler – Parler’s CEO has said that the company is now considering other cloud providers, although it is not clearly what companies it can be. Some experts doubt Parler’s ability to bounce back after starting from Amazon Web Services and say it will be incredibly difficult and could take a while. “Pearls will have to build their own infrastructure,” according to ZDNet’s Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.
At the same time, Dan Bongino, a right-wing conservative commentator who has invested in the site, recently told Fox that he was willing to go bankrupt to help Parler return.
And of course, the site could possibly make Epik host it. Epic SVP Robert Davis indicated in a statement that his firm would be willing to work with Parler if it developed moderation policies that could cut back on violence. Davis also told New York Times tech reporter Jack Nicas that Parler had already registered his domain with Epik without Epik’s knowledge. If an agreement is made, Davis added, it could take about 10 days for a preliminary version of Parler to come back online and as much as three months for a full version of the site to go live again. Epik did not respond to Recode’s request for comment.
Pearls may be gone, but its users are not
So it will probably take a while before Parler is back in full force. Meanwhile, Parler users are likely to go for other apps, says Oren Segal, a vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Extremism.
“Before Parler got dark while monitoring the platform, we saw discussions about where people should migrate to – Telegram or Gab, etc.,” Segal told Recode. “They are always preparing for where to go next, and expect that their election platform will go down. “
There are several platforms and services that these users turn to. Telegram, a messaging platform that claims to have half a billion users and is increasingly known to host some extreme right-right channels, has seen an increase in downloads. Gab, a largely right-wing social network, has also reported an increase in traffic. Then there is the lesser known page MeWe, a Facebook-like platform that has recently seen the number of downloads on the page triple according to data obtained by Axios.
“People who do not want to go back to Facebook, who are pissed off on Twitter, they want to look for the alternative spaces,” noted Diara Townes, an investigative researcher and community engagement leader at mis- and disinformation research firm First Draft. “They will have to navigate new user experiences through these platforms, but they will look for these spaces.”
“And the more they are pushed to the side, the more fringed these spaces become,” Townes added.
So even if Parler does not come back, users do not go away. We already know that the white supremacist and conspiracy theory communities taken offline have returned to the Internet in the past, and all indications are that Parliament’s possible resurrection.
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