Apple will allow right-leaning social media app Parler back on its App Store provided the company makes changes to its moderation policies, the iPhone maker said after booting the app, which harbored content that glorified and encouraged the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Parler said in a press release that it would relaunch the app next week. It also said that the Apple version of its app will prohibit some posts that will still appear on the Android app and on the website.
“We have worked to put in place systems that will better detect unlawful speech and allow users to filter content undesirable to them, while maintaining our strict prohibition against content moderation based on viewpoint,” Parler interim CEO Mark Meckler said in a statement.
“In the period since Apple removed the Parler app from the App Store, Apple’s App Review Team has engaged in substantial conversations with Parler in an effort to bring the Parler app into compliance with the Guidelines and reinstate it in the App Store,” Timothy Powderly, Apple’s senior director of government affairs for the Americas, wrote in the letter.
After reports emerged that the Jan. 6 attack was partially planned online, favor started to turn against Parler, which was known as a friendly spot for election veracity doubters to mingle. Parler disappeared from the Internet in January after screenshots and reports emerged in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack. Parler had taken an aggressively hands-off approach to content moderation, relying on a community jury to police posts, rather than a combination of workers and artificial intelligence like its larger competitors.
As a result, Apple and Google both said Parler was violating its policies and kicked the app off its stores, making it difficult — if not impossible — for new users to download the app on a mobile device, and for existing users to update. But the bigger blow for Parler came from Amazon, when the tech giant pulled its cloud computing capabilities from the company, effectively knocking it offline.
Parler remained dark for more than a month before reemerging online with technical support from Los Angeles-based cloud company SkySilk. When it relaunched on the Web in February with a new interim CEO, executives said that it would more strictly moderate posts on its site. The company’s chief policy officer told media organizations that it was working with Apple to get back on the store, and was combining algorithms and humans to review and possibly remove content that could incite violence.
But Parler has been running in a limited form online, and is still not accessible on the two big app stores.
Apple’s guidelines require apps to have a way to catch “objectionable” material from being posted to apps and to have a way to report “offensive content.” Apple said its review team found posts on Parler that violated its guidelines, “including posts that encouraged violence, denigrated various ethnic groups, races and religions, glorified Nazism, and called for violence against specific people.”
Getting back on the App Store is key if Parler is going to reseize its popularity. The site reportedly had 15 million users before it was knocked offline in January. In the United States, where Parler’s target audience resides, Apple is extremely important for the growth of any mobile app developer.
Parler has been embroiled in lawsuits since the controversy in January, including suing Amazon for breach of contract. Former CEO and co-founder John Matze also filed a lawsuit against the company last month, alleging his stake was taken from him.
Majority investor and Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer increasingly pulls the strings at the company, according to people familiar with the situation. She appointed an ally, Meckler, as interim CEO after Matze was ousted.
Google and Amazon also sent letters in response to inquires from Lee and Buck, without promises to reinstate Parler. Amazon said it had suspended, not terminated, certain services from Parler after weeks of trying to work with the company. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
“In the following weeks, despite AWS’s good-faith efforts, Parler proved both unable and unwilling to respond effectively to those concerns, and we continued to see an increase in content that encouraged or incited violence,” Amazon’s letter reads.
Meckler said in an interview with Fox News in February that the company wasn’t interested in getting back on Google’s Play Store. Apps can be loaded on Android devices from the Web, unlike on Apple devices, where circumventing the App Store is nearly impossible.
In its letter, Google wrote that “Parler’s app may come back to our platform assuming it complies with our policies. So far Parler has declined to do so.”
Amazon, Apple and Google all denied in their letters that they had coordinated with each other to remove Parler from their services.