Let’s Talk About Parler

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Photo Credit: John

Parler is back online this week after a post-coup hiatus when Amazon stopped allowing the platform to use their web servers and both Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores. Parler has also announced a new CEO, Mark Meckler, best known for his role co-founding the Tea Party movement.

Per reporting from the New York Times, Parler’s new list of tech providers speaks volumes:

After many large web-hosting firms rejected Parler, the site came back online with the help of a small provider near Los Angeles called SkySilk. Kevin Matossian, SkySilk’s chief executive, said in a statement that he was helping Parler to support free speech. For other services required to run a large website, Parler relied on help from a Russian firm that once worked for the Russian government and a Seattle firm that once supported a neo-Nazi site.

You’ll be shocked to learn that Parler’s current tech infrastructure isn’t exactly reliable, and there have been outages on and off this week. No wonder Parler is suing Amazon. If Parler fails, Amazon’s actions might not be entirely to blame but were absolutely a major factor.

Readers have been asking me to write about Parler since last year, and to be honest, I’ve avoided it. I’ve had an account for a while now and, of all the right-wing social networks I’ve seen come and go over the past five years, Parler is the most redundant and pointless of them all.

The most interesting thing about Parler, to me anyway, was the slick marketing behind making it a thing. Parler co-founder, Rebekah Mercer, clearly called in a lot of favors and over the course of a few months in 2020, almost every Republican politician and right-wing influencer made a big show of announcing that they were joining Parler, or leaving Twitter for Parler. As a result, and probably with the help of a good public relations firm, Parler got a lot of mainstream press about being the social media platform that all the cool kids on the Right were flocking to.

Parler was the Fyre Festival of pro-Trump Internet. It relied on influencer-driven marketing, curiosity, and aspiration. Sure anyone could sign up, but Parler was marketed as the place to be, where all the cool MAGA kids were hanging out.

But like the Fyre Festival, the reality was grim. Parler was heavy on broadcast content from folks who already had built large platforms elsewhere (or whose fans came to Parler to find them because they’d been deplatformed elsewhere.) I found fewer actual conversations than you’d typically see on other right-wing communities like Gab or even on Facebook groups. I thought of it as a boring platform where users would soon lose interest and head back to Twitter.

Until I began to see organizing for January 6 on Parler. It mirrored what was happening in other communities but Parler was a shiny object and had quickly built a large-ish audience post-election. There’s no easy way to determine if Parler’s audience was made up mostly of people coming in from other right-wing spaces or new faces ripe for radicalization. I suspect it was mostly the former but we can’t count the latter out. But either way, Parler gave these folks a space to organize and hype potential acts of violence up in DC, free from any moderation.

Parler also gave America a treasure trove of evidence against those who participated in the Trump rally and/or violent attempted coup on January 6. Researcher @donk_enby managed to archive every Parler post, starting with content from January 6, and created a public database. The posts included videos and location data that have since been used as evidence in impeachment and criminal investigations and to help journalists and investigators piece together narratives from the attack. I’m genuinely curious to know how Parler’s users feel about this, and if they still trust the platform now that it’s back online.

I remain skeptical that Parler will become the right-wing social media powerhouse that was its goal. The company probably has enough Mercer money to keep limping along but if it’s still around in a year, Parler will probably be about as relevant as its competitor Gab currently is. The one thing that might change Parler’s trajectory is if Trump decides to make it his preferred media platform, but given that a 40% ownership stake in the company still wasn’t enough to get the disgraced former president to log on, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

The above article is an excerpt from Ctrl Alt-Right Delete, a newsletter devoted to covering the rise of far-right extremism, white nationalism, disinformation, and online toxicity, delivered on a weekly basis to more than 16,000 subscribers.

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Politics + technology. Author of Ctrl Alt Right Delete newsletter. Subscribe here: https://goo.gl/c74Vva. Coffee drinker. Kentucky basketball fan.

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