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Parler: Inside the Twitter rival banned by Google, Apple & Amazon

BRAZIL - 2021/01/09: In this photo illustration the Parler logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Parler: Inside the alt-right Twitter banned by Google, Apple & Amazon. Source: Getty

Twitter’s conservative rival, Parler, has been suspended by Apple, Google and Amazon, days after President Donald Trump was kicked off multiple media platforms.

The app, which purports to be the world’s “premier free speech platform” offering “real conversation” became the US’ most downloaded app from Apple’s App Store a day after Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter.

After the suspension, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted a picture of the top charts on the App Store which no longer showed Parler as the most-downloaded app.

Parler CEO John Matze replied saying: “Yeah, we were number one until the fake news rage mob at Twitter and your anti-competitive friends went after us.”

What is Parler?

Parler is a microblogging and social networking service that looks nearly identical to Twitter, but instead of Tweets, people send and post “parleys”.

The app amassed more than 100,000 users in less than a year, after a tweet by conservative activist Candace Ownes brought around 40,000 users on board.

It then attracted the attention of other Republicans and right-wing commentators before experiencing a surge in 2020 when Twitter began flagging Trump’s tweets as inaccurate.

Now, the app is known for its far-right content, antisemitism and predominantly Trump-supporting user base.

Although it markets itself as a “free speech” platform, the app came under fire late last year for reportedly banning left-wing users who expressed liberal views on the platform.

Who founded Parler?

Parler was founded by computer science graduates John Matze and Jared Thomson, and launched in 2018, after the pair were “exhausted with a lack of transparency in big tech, ideological suppression and privacy abuse”, according to Fox News.

Matze is now the company’s chief executive officer, and Thomson is chief technical officer, according to LinkedIn.

Not much is known about the company’s founders, except that they graduated from the University of Denver in 2014.

American heiress and major Republican donor Rebekah Mercer, whose father co-founded Cambridge Analytica, revealed in November last year that she also co-founded the company.

"John and I started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended, and also to create a social media environment that would protect data privacy," she said in a statement on Parler.

“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.”

Who are Parler’s investors?

Conservative political commentator and podcaster Dan Bongino announced he took an ownership stake in Parler, in a bid to “fight back against the Tech Tyrants”.

“I’m beyond fed up with the censorship and bias of Twitter and Facebook and I’m not going to stand back and watch as they target us,” he posted to his site in 2018.

The app is still privately owned and has not indicated it intends to make an initial public offering.

How many users does Parler have?

As of November 2020, Parler had around 4 million active users and 10 million total users.

But after Trump was suspended from multiple media platforms on Friday 8 January, the app saw around 210,000 more installs globally, up from 55,000 the previous day.

Around 182,000 of those were first-time downloads, up 355 per cent from the previous day, according to Tech Crunch.

To put that into perspective, Twitter had around 330 million monthly active users and 145 million daily active users as of May last year.

Why was Parler banned?

Amazon kicked off a wave of suspensions over the weekend, after it was revealed Parler was used to coordinate the insurrection at the US Capitol on Wednesday last week.

According to BuzzFeed, the app was overrun with posts encouraging users to storm the Capitol with weapons on 19 January - the day before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

An email from Amazon’s safety team to Parler obtained by BuzzFeed said the company was not convinced Parler’s plan to use volunteers to moderate the platform would be effective.

Soon after, Apple and Google also removed the app from the App Store and the Play Store, saying the content on the site violated their respective company policies.

“We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US,” a Google spokesperson said.

“We recognise that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content.”

Apple had given Parler 24 hours to submit a detailed moderation plan, but said they had not yet addressed the issue. It said it was removing the app until the issues were resolved.

“Parler has not upheld its commitment to moderate and remove harmful or dangerous content encouraging violence and illegal activity, and is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines,” according to Apple's email to Parler.

Matze responded to the multiple suspensions on Parler, saying: "This was a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the market place...We were too successful too fast."

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