Comment Parler, an app chosen by Trump fans, has become a test of free speech



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From the start, John Matze had positioned Parler as a social network of “free speech” where people could mostly say what they wanted. It was a gamble that had recently paid off, as millions of President Trump’s supporters, tired of what they saw as censorship on Facebook and Twitter, rushed to Talk.

On the app, policy discussions had intensified. But so were conspiracy theories that falsely claimed the election was stolen from Mr. Trump, with users calling for aggressive protests last week when Congress met to certify the election of the President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

These calls for violence soon returned to haunt Mr. Matze, 27, a Las Vegas software engineer and CEO of Parler. As of Saturday night, Apple and Google pulled Parler from their app stores and Amazon said it would no longer host the site on its IT departments, saying it had not sufficiently monitored posts inciting violence and to crime. As a result, Parler was scheduled to disappear from the web on Monday.

This sparked a relentless effort to keep Talking Online. Mr Matze said on Sunday that he was running to back up the data of some 15 million Talking users from Amazon computers. He also called business after business to find one ready to support Talking with hundreds of computer servers.

“I believe Amazon, Google and Apple have been working together to try to make sure they don’t have competition,” Mr. Matze said on Speak Saturday night. “They will NOT win! We are the world’s last hope for free speech and free information. He said the app would likely shut down “for a week at most as we are rebuilding from scratch.”

Parler’s plight immediately drew condemnation from those on the right, who compared big tech companies to authoritarian lords. Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, told Fox News on Sunday that “Republicans have no way of communicating” and asked his supporters to text him to keep in touch. Lou Dobbs, the right-wing commentator, wrote on Speak that the app had a strong antitrust case against tech companies in these “perilous times.”

Speaking has now become a test case in a renewed national debate over free speech on the internet and whether tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon have too much power. This debate has intensified since Mr. Trump was banned from posting on Twitter and Facebook last week after a violent mob, urged by the president and his social media posts, stormed the Capitol.

For years, Facebook and Twitter had championed the ability of people to express themselves freely on their sites, while Amazon, Apple, Google and others had remained largely uncontacted with apps like Talk. This has allowed disinformation and lies to circulate on online networks.

Actions by tech companies last week to curb this toxic content with Mr. Trump and Talking have since been applauded by liberals and others. But the measures have also raised questions about how private companies can decide who stays online and who doesn’t, especially when politically appropriate, with Mr Biden due to take office on January 20 and Democrats taking over. control of Congress.

The newly proactive approach by tech companies is also providing water for Mr. Trump in the final days of his administration. Even if he faces another potential indictment, Mr. Trump is expected to try to stir up anger at Twitter, Facebook and others this week, potentially as a launching pad to compete head-on with Silicon Valley when ‘he will be leaving the White House. After being banned from Twitter, Mr. Trump said in a statement that he “will look into the possibilities of creating our own platform in the near future.”

Ben Wizner, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said it was understandable that no company wanted to be associated with the “repulsive speech” that encouraged the violation of the Capitol. But he said Parler’s situation was troubling.

Indeed, the removal of Parler by Apple and Google from their app stores and the shutdown of its web hosting by Amazon went beyond what Twitter or Facebook do when they restrict a user’s account or their websites. publications, he said. “I think we should recognize the importance of neutrality when we talk about Internet infrastructure,” he said.

In previous statements, Apple, Amazon and Google have said they have warned Speak Up Against Violent Posts on its site and have not done enough to remove them systematically. The companies have said they require sites like Parler to consistently enforce its rules. They declined to comment further on Sunday.

Tech companies that support certain websites are nothing new. In 2018, Gab, another alternative to Facebook and Twitter who is popular with the far right, was forced to log out after losing support from other companies, including PayPal and GoDaddy, because she had hosted anti-Semitic messages from a man who shot and killed. 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Gab later returned online with the help of a Seattle company, Epik, which hosts other far-right websites.

Even as Speak is getting dark, right-wing figures like Mr. Nunes who have built followings on the app are not short of other channels of communication. Many still have large followers on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, who welcome any user who doesn’t break their rules, including threatening violence or posting hate speech.

Talk was founded in 2018 by Mr. Matze and a fellow programmer, one of many newcomers to social media who aimed to capitalize on the growing anger of Mr. Trump’s supporters towards Silicon Valley. But Parler had one significant advantage: money. Rebekah Mercer, one of Mr. Trump’s biggest donors, helped fund the site. Other investors include Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent and Fox News expert. He plans to eventually make money selling ads.

The app is basically a Twitter clone. It allows people to distribute messages – known as “talks” and not “tweets” – to subscribers. Users can also comment and “echo” – not “retweet” – other users’ posts. When creating a new account, people are asked to select their favorite color and are encouraged to follow a list of conservative voices, including Mr. Nunes, Fox News host Sean Hannity and actress Kirstie Alley. .

These “influencers” dominate the experience on the site. Speaking’s news feed on Sunday was a stream of their angry “talks”, taunting Big Tech and begging their supporters to follow them elsewhere.

“Please sign up for my daily newsletter today, before tech totalitarians ban everything,” wrote Mr Bongino, who also controls one of Facebook’s most popular pages.

Talking grew slowly until early 2020, when Twitter began calling Mr. Trump’s tweets inaccurate and some of his supporters joined in on Speaking in protest. After the November election, Parler grew even faster, with Facebook and Twitter cracking down on false claims the vote was rigged. So many users signed up that at times they overloaded the company’s systems and forced it to put a hold on new registrations.

In total, people downloaded Talking’s app more than 10 million times last year, 80% of which were in the United States, according to Sensor Tower, the app data company.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Trump encouraged his supporters to march to Capitol Hill to pressure lawmakers to reverse his election defeat, sparking a riot that left five people dead. The rally was scheduled on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. On Parler, people posted advice on which streets to take to avoid the police; some have posted guns inside the Capitol.

In an interview with the New York Times hours after the riot, Mr Matze said: “I don’t feel responsible for any of this and neither does the platform, given that we are a neutral town square. who simply adheres to the law. “

But on Friday, Apple and Google told Parler it needed to more systematically remove posts that encouraged violence. On Saturday, Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores, limiting its ability to reach new users on virtually every smartphone in the world.

“There is no room on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity,” Apple said in a statement. Google said, “We require apps to implement robust moderation for blatant content.”

Late Saturday, Amazon told Parler it would need to find a new place to host its site. Amazon said it sent Parler 98 examples of posts on its site that encouraged violence, but many remained active.

“We cannot provide services to a customer who is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others,” Amazon said.

Amazon was to withdraw support for Parler just before midnight Sunday on the West Coast. Amazon said it will preserve Parler’s data so it can move it to other computer servers.

“It’s devastating,” Mr. Matze told Fox News on Sunday. “And it’s not just these three companies. Every provider, from text messaging to email providers to our lawyers all left us on the same day. He said he was having trouble finding another company to host Parler’s website.

But Jeffrey Wernick, COO of Parler, said in an interview that the app had heard from several companies wanting to help it. He refused to name them.

“What Talking will look like in a month, I can’t tell you,” he said. “But Parler won’t be gone.

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