The tempestuous bullet train that is the Trump presidency may be pulling into its final destination, but the wave of support for the agitator-in-chief, and the overflowing sacks of vitriol that come with it are nowhere near halting. Parler, the right-wing alternative to Twitter – where Parleys and upvotes act in lieu of Tweets and likes, respectively – might be considered, by some, as a major player in keeping the crest of misinformation and hate speech alive.
In wake of election week, the two-year-old app has risen to the top download spot in Google Play and the iOS App Store in the US, as droves of despondent Trump supporters and right-wing conservatives have signed up to the ‘free speech’ platform.
Self-described as a ‘solution to problems that have surfaced in recent years due to changes in Big Tech policy influenced by various special-interest groups,’ Parler, whose moniker takes after the French verb ‘to speak’, is seen by members of certain circles as the balm to Silicon Valley’s crackdown on the spread of false information. In other words, this newcomer network has become the echo chamber for those deemed too toxic by the social media big boys.
In mid-October, Facebook declared that it was banning content that denies or distorts the Holocaust. “Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance,” founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post that announced the company’s decision. This was a complete U-turn on the 36-year-old’s previous statement, two years ago, when he said that posts of a similar ilk should not be automatically removed.
Moreover, Twitter, Trump’s go-to blowhorn, has also drawn the lines. As things stand, Trump currently receives special treatment on the network – meaning his account is immune to being banned or suspended – as he is a ‘newsworthy individual’, a luxury he will forgo once his term at the White House is over.
But, following its announcement in September that it would put warning labels on posts from election night that either inaccurately or prematurely call the results, or relay questionable information about the voting process, Twitter, since last week, has been flagging Trump’s recent baseless Tweets about mail-in ballots and voter fraud. ‘This claim about election fraud is disputed’, one warning reads. ‘Official sources may not have called the race when this was Tweeted,’ states another, in response to Trump’s claim on 7 November that he triumphed over president-elect Joe Biden.
Consequently, due to what conservatives view as a suppression of free speech, Parler – which markets itself as ‘the world’s town square’ where users can ‘speak freely and express’ themselves ‘openly, without fear of being “deplatformed”’ – has recently seen two million new sign-ups in a day and its daily active users quadruple over the weekend, according to founder John Matze. As of Tuesday, there are 7.6 million members on Parler.
It was in June when Parler saw its first major influx of new members, as many right-wing accounts, which circulated inaccurate posts about the George Floyd protests and the coronavirus, were prohibited from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Proud Boys – the neo-fascist group that Trump told to “stand by” during the first presidential debate – have also sought refuge in Parler, due to Facebook’s ban on organisations that advocate violence.
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