Big Tech abandoned the social media site, known for allowing unfettered speech on its platform, over the weekend after expressing concern that the site was not properly moderating posts that could incite violence. Google and Apple removed Parler from its app stores, while Amazon — which was hosting the site on its cloud — decided to stop working with it, effectively removing it from the Internet.
(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Many Parler users last week posted plans in the lead-up to and following the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, expressing support for the rioters and their cause. Some posts talked explicitly of committing violence.
“Many of Us will return on January 19, 2021, carrying Our weapons, in support of Our nation’s resolve, towhich the world will never forget!!!” one user posted on the same day as the attack on the Capitol.
Parler has prided itself on having a hands-off approach to content moderation that relies on a volunteer jury system in which users can vote to have posts removed if they are illegal or break site rules.
Its system is significantly less robust than the processes put in place by Facebook and Twitter, which rely on thousands of content moderators and sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) to root out and remove violative posts. These systems are not perfect — plenty of rulebreaking posts make it through Facebook and Twitter’s filters. But Parler, which does not use AI technology to help spot illegal posts, is not doing enough, according to the companies that dropped it over the weekend.
Even after Apple warned Parler that it needed to implement a more thorough content moderation plan or be kicked off the App Store, the social media network spurned the idea.
“Apple will be banning Parler until we give up free speech, institute broad and invasive policies like Twitter and Facebook and we become a surveillance platform by pursuing guilt of those who use Parler before innocence,” chief executive John Matze posted on the site. He added that the site has “many options” to continue operating.
He struck a less optimistic tone, however, in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
“Every vendor from text message services to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us, too, on the same day,” Matze told host Maria Bartiromo, who has been a supporter of Parler’s.
It will be tough for Parler to come back online quickly, if it manages to at all, technologists say. The company would have to find service providers that are willing to support it and can manage its size, or build its own system from scratch.
That was the approach far-right social media site Gab said it took. Its chief executive said on Twitter this weekend that Gab runs its own servers, email system and messaging service and that the entire infrastructure took more than a year to create.
Its lawsuit is already running into roadblocks — in a court filing Monday, Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein pointed out that Parler apparently hadn’t served Amazon with the papers to request a temporary restraining order of Amazon’s suspension of services.
“'Motions for temporary restraining orders without notice to and an opportunity to be heard by the adverse party are disfavored and will rarely be granted,'” Jacobs wrote in a notice ordering Parler to serve Amazon by Monday evening.
Parler, which has positioned itself as a “free-speech” Twitter competitor, burst into the public spotlight last year amid conservative backlash against mainstream social media sites, especially as President Trump attacked Facebook and Twitter for what he said was censorship of his posts. Twitter on Friday banned Trump permanently from the site, saying his posts could incite real-world violence.
The move inflamed right-wing anger directed at big tech companies. In its lawsuit, Parler said it has more than 12 million users and had expected to “add millions more this week given its growth the last few days and the growing voice of conservatives encouraging their Twitter followers to switch to Parler.”
The company was launched by an investment from the billionaire Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer, who with her father has helped bankroll Trump, the far-right site Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica. Conservative commentator Dan Bongino is also an investor and frequent user of the site.
Parler alleged in the lawsuit that Amazon was conspiring against its business after recently entering a multiyear deal with Twitter.
“It will kill Parler’s business — at the very time it is set to skyrocket,” Parler’s suit reads.
Amazon declined to comment publicly. Parler did not respond to a request for comment. Twitter declined to comment.
Drew Harwell and Cat Zakrzewski contributed to this report.