Big Tech shuts down Parler as CEO defends content on site

Platform goes offline after Amazon rescinds web-hosting service; Trump expected to address matter

Following last week’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol, social media companies and web hosts have acted swiftly to remove President Donald Trump’s ability to rile up his supporters with election misinformation that could potentially incite more violence during his final days in office.

Trump was reportedly unhappy about being permanently banned from Facebook and Twitter, and was expected to address the matter Monday during a public statement, according to reports.

The latest on Parler

Following the uprising at the Capitol last week, the popular right-wing social media app Parler was also forcibly removed from web servers just after midnight Monday for many of the same reasons that the president was blocked on social media.

Amazon Web Services said it made the move because Parler violated its terms of service by failing to address the gradual increase of violent content on its site, according to Reuters, citing an email by an AWS Trust and Safety team to Parler.

Later in the day Parler filed suit against Amazon, arguing that the decision to shut down its hosting was tantamount to a “death blow.”

In the last few weeks AWS contacted Parler about 98 examples of posts “that clearly encourage and incite violence” and said the platform “poses a very real risk to public safety.”

Parler now needs to find a new web-hosting service if the app is to continue to provide its services.

»CAPITOL RIOTS: Anarchist in Viking headdress ID’d as Trump supporter, not Antifa

Losing access to the app stores of Google and Apple — whose operating systems power hundreds of millions of smartphones — severely limits Parler’s reach, though it had continued to be accessible via web browser.

Late last week, Google and Apple erased Parler from their app stores, saying the company had failed to moderate “egregious content” posted by users to plan violence at the Washington rally.

Free speech issue?

Trump supporters are now claiming these bans by private companies amount to illegal censorship and an infringement on their free speech rights, despite terms and conditions by the platforms that prohibit misinformation and threats of violence.

»PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Trump supporters flock to Parler app to cast doubt on Biden win

Notably, U.S. law respects a private company’s right to do business with whomever it chooses in spite of the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech, according to legal experts.

The recent social media suspensions against the president effectively removed his favorite way of communicating with supporters, many of whom fled to Parler in recent months to avoid a growing crackdown on misinformation taking place on the other platforms.

In November, Parler became the top new download on the Apple App Store, with users hailing the ability to post unfounded and disputable facts without excessive content moderation.

After losing the election, Trump refused to concede and pushed a false voter fraud conspiracy as GOP operatives filed multiple lawsuits seeking to upend Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

During the entire disinformation campaign, Facebook and Twitter continuously labeled the president’s posts with fact-checks, but Trump and others were still able to keep up the falsehoods mostly unabated.

But that changed after the uprising at the U.S. Capitol last week, with many voices accusing the platform of stirring up deeper resentment among Trump supporters over the election’s outcome.

Before the Capitol attack, reports said, Parler users had openly discussed bringing weapons and wielding them against lawmakers once inside the congressional offices and chambers.

Parler CEO John Matze

Parler CEO John Matze said in a statement Monday that the platform does not condone violence and has “worked hard to construct a system” to “remove prohibited content.”

“Nobody has presented any credible piece of information or evidence that, you know, there is any problems on Parler that don’t exist on other platforms,” Matze said Monday. “This really is a double standard. ... We see all sorts of nasty threatening content on Twitter, much more of it actually, in our opinion, and, actually, a lot of content that’s deleted from Parler still remains on Twitter to this day in the form of screenshots. So I don’t understand, you know, what this is really about. Because it is not about holding everybody to account equally. It is about giving preferential treatment to certain people.”

His statement continued:

“If it goes against our terms of service, we remove it. Frankly, I am not interested in seeing our platform or any other platform used as a tool for violence and spreading violence ... but Amazon, Apple and Google don’t care,” Matze said Monday. “They are using this as opportunity to squash the first real competitor in this space in so many years. That’s showing that we can contest the market. When they realize the markets are contestable, they squash competition. If there’s a case for antitrust, I think this is a pretty prime example that the first real tangible competitor’s squashed so quickly, so egregiously.”

Matze said the company is now working to figure out its next move.

“It is going to be devastating to our business, our model, our potential to raise future capital,” he continued. “This could happen to any company, anybody at any time.”

Matze assured users the app would find a way to stay alive.

“Everyone should hold on and come back,” Matze said. “We may have to go as far as buying and building our own data centers and buying up our own servers if we need to to get back on the internet, you know, but there is risk involved in that given what vendors are doing, the extent they are going to get rid of us.”

What is Parler?

The Parler app, created in 2018, was already home to many who had been banned from Facebook’s platform for policy violations.

Parler got off the ground two years ago in response to growing “censorship” by Big Tech companies.

The platform gained widespread popularity last summer after high-profile Trump surrogates began using it after Twitter for the first time labeled Trump’s tweets in May, the Post reported.

The app, which has a newsfeed like Twitter, immediately appealed to Republican voters, far-right organizers and conservative pundits who use it to express support for Trump and other conservative causes.

As the too-close-to-call vote count stretched beyond Election Day and as Biden was declared the winner, Trump supporters swarmed to the platform.

“Hurry and follow me at Parler,” tweeted conservative radio host Mark Levin the day after the election was called for Biden, according to the Post. “I’m trying to encourage as many of you as possible to immediately join me there as I may not stay at Facebook or Twitter if they continue censoring me.”

High-profile Republicans had also joined the chorus of new Parler users, including Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo and Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis, according to the Post.