A new social media platform that keeps censorship to a bare minimum has taken off in the wake of Donald Trump’s election loss.
So what is this thing?
You’ve quite possibly never heard of Parler, the new app taking the free speech world by storm. But in the United States it’s top of the app store charts and bringing in thousands of new users every second.
Parler – French for “to speak” – is a new-ish social media site that looks a little bit like Twitter. You can comment, “echo” (retweet) and “upvote” (like) posts about whatever topic you so choose.
While it was founded in mid-2018, the site has recently experienced a major surge in uptake due to its extremely laissez-faire policy around censorship and misinformation.
Unlike mainstream social media like Facebook and Twitter, Parler does not fact check any of the content published by its users and will only remove very limited types of content, including pornography or anything likely to incite terrorism.
The company’s “about” page says Parler is built upon a “foundation of respect for privacy and personal data, free speech, free markets, and ethical, transparent corporate policy”.
On the Apple app store, it describes itself as an “unbiased social media” site – right above its 2.5 star rating.
What does Parler look like?
Under the username Woke Pixie Dust, I peeked behind enemy lines. Upon logging in for the first time, I’m greeted by the option to “personalise” my Parler experience, with suggested follows including Republican senator Ted Cruz and pro-Trump broadcasters Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. Of course, I tick follow on all of them.
Making it to my feed, it’s not long before I see a large promoted post declaring “STOP THE BIDEN STEAL”, posted by a Republican congresswoman-elect. There are numerous posts criticising the mainstream media, a video instructing people how to build on the “MAGA movement” and several with the hashtag “Democrats are corrupt”.
The user experience is a lot like a rudimentary Twitter but with a more customisable colour scheme.
I have no followers yet though – so if you’re on Parler, go on and do the honourable thing.
Who is on it?
As noted above, much of Parler’s user base appears to be people from the right of politics, including Trump backers, Republicans, members of the alt-right, and free speech activists.
Twitter has come under fire from Republicans over the past six months for flagging misleading or inaccurate posts as… misleading or inaccurate. Parler does no such thing, and prominent US politicians like Ted Cruz have been using Twitter to invite their supporters to follow them on the new platform. While President Trump does not yet have an account on there, many of his most ardent followers do.
I’m proud to join @parler_app — a platform gets what free speech is all about — and I’m excited to be a part of it. Let’s speak. Let’s speak freely. And let’s end the Silicon Valley censorship. Follow me there @tedcruz! pic.twitter.com/pzUFvhipBZ
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 25, 2020
Yesterday, former presidential hopeful Rand Paul suggested Twitter may soon silence debate and asked his three million followers to join him on Parler. It was in response to Twitter flagging one of his tweets as “disputed” when he implied dead people may have been voting for Joe Biden – a claim that has been disproven.
Twitter is flagging my question: Your government sent 1.1 million dead people stimulus checks. Wonder how many of these folks also voted absentee?
So, now it is unacceptable to pose questions?
Follow me on @parler_app and prepare for the day twitter silences debate.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) November 11, 2020
Why is Parler experiencing a boom right now?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, a place I wish I was too, you will know the US presidential election happened last week and that the president is refusing to acknowledge he has lost. Shockingly, a number of his followers (including elected officials) are also refusing to recognise the will of the American people.
Parler appears to be a home for people who may buy into misinformation around the election being stolen from Trump, mail-in ballots being a fraud, and the idea that thousands of dead people voted in Philadelphia.
According to reports, several Facebook groups with thousands of supporters are encouraging an exodus to Parler tomorrow – November 13. As the BBC reports, this will be the second “mass migration” of right-wing users from Facebook and Twitter to Parler, following a move in June when a number of accounts were banned for spreading lies during the George Floyd protests and at the height of the first Covid-19 wave.
One prominent hashtag that Twitter has been attempting to shut down – “Stop the Steal” – had almost 60,000 posts on Parler on Monday alone, with no flagging.
So… just how popular is it?
Even in New Zealand, Parler is gaining popularity. At the time of writing, the Apple app store shows Parler cracking the top 100 free apps – hitting number 91. But in the United States, it’s been top of the charts this week following the presidential election being called for Joe Biden. That makes it even more popular than TikTok, YouTube, Zoom and, of course, Facebook and Twitter.
At number four on the US charts is Newsmax, the alternative, right wing news source that has become one of Trump’s most devoted propagandists.
According to early November statistics, four million people were active on Parler. In the last week alone, that figure has risen to about eight million. Parler’s chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick said the site is a “breath of fresh air” for people wary of the way they’ve been treated on Twitter.
“And now that many of their friends are already on Parler, they’ve decided it’s worth their investment of time to give us a try,” said Wernick. “We plan to earn their continued business.”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.