Conservative ‘free speech’ app Parler sees US election surge

With Twitter and Facebook CEO’s facing pressure from Congress, competitor Parler provides an outlet for conservative voices.

Users of Facebook and Twitter angry about misinformation regulation have moved to Parler [File: Jon Nazca/Reuters]

The CEOs of Facebook and Twitter are to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about their companies’ role in the election, as a new social platform is attracting conservative followers.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey will likely face questions from Republican Senators accusing them of anti-conservative bias as their increasing emphasis on regulating misinformation has made them targets of President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Meanwhile, a social media platform that bills itself as an alternative to sites like Twitter and Facebook has seen a surge in use during the United States presidential election.

Parler, which calls itself the the “free speech social network” and whose creator has said that content on the Twitter-like site will not be fact-checked, saw two million downloads on Apple and Android devices between November 3 and November 9, according to The Associated Press, which cites data tracked by Sensor Tower. That is more than 31 times the downloads it saw in the week before.

Parler, which was launched in 2018, currently has about 10 million users, with its base nearly doubling since the election, as Trump continued to push allegations of widespread fraud and voting irregularities while falsely claiming victory. Those posts were promptly labelled as misleading by Twitter and Facebook.

The number of Parler users is still minuscule compared with more than 150 million Twitter users and more than 2.6 billion Facebook users.

Last week, top conservative pundit Sean Hannity urged viewers to switch to the platform, where the conversation remains dominated by Trump’s fraud allegations and the unfounded belief that the election had been stolen by Democrats.

“Can we now move everybody from Twitter to Parler? Can we just, like, make the shift together, like, just say goodbye Twitter, see ya Jack, nice try?” Hannity said on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show, referring to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

On Sunday, Rebekah Mercer, a prominent conservative donor, revealed she is among the platform’s financial backers.

“The ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining, and for the protection of free speech online,” she wrote in a post on the site. “That someone is Parler, a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy.”

What is Parler?

Parler has steadily grown since its launch, particularly connecting with supporters of Trump and conservatives who saw other major platforms as stifling free speech and having a liberal bias. It is styled like Twitter, and allows users to post short messages, known as “parley”, to followers or “echo” (repost) other users’ posts.

Unlike Twitter and Facebook, the site does not use algorithms to recommend content and does not “curate your feed”, according to its community guidelines.

Founder John Matze told Forbes in June “there are going to be no fact-checkers” on the platform.

“You’re not going to be told what to think and what to say,” he said. “A police officer isn’t going to arrest you if you say the wrong opinion … I think that’s all people want. That’s what they like.”

Parler, in the sites community guidelines, said it “prefers that removing community members or member-provided content be kept to the absolute minimum. We prefer to leave decisions about what is seen and who is heard to each individual.”

The guidelines continue: “In no case will Parler decide what will content be removed or filtered, or whose account will be removed, on the basis of the opinion expressed within the content at issue.”

However, the site will remove illegal content or content it suspects of being used in the commission of a crime. That includes “terrorist” content, calls to incite violence, child pornography and spam.

The platform saw its first bump in users in June, when Trump had publicly flirted with leaving behind Twitter and Facebook for Parler. To date, the president has not joined the site. However, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany has detailed Trump’s fraud allegations on the platform.

Trump’s son Eric and campaign adviser Jason Miller are also users, while Republican politicians including Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and US Representative Devin Nunes are active on the platform.

Groups and individuals that have faced bans from other social media sites, like fringe conservative radio host Alex Jones and various groups affiliated with the far-right Proud Boys, have also taken to Parler.

As happens with most social media sites, posts have already had real-world implications for at least one user in the days following the election.

Lang Holland, a police chief in the city of Marshall, Arkansas resigned November 9 after taking to Parler to threaten violence against Democrats.

“Never let them forget they are traitors and have no right to live in this Republic after what they have done,” read the post, which was later removed.

“Death to all Marxist Democrats,” another post said. “Take no prisoners leave no survivors!!”

Source: Al Jazeera