Parler Media swears it has changed. But can the app escape its problematic past?

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As state governments try to restrict children’s access to social media and various courts debate what free speech looks like in the digital age, a social media platform is trying to change its middle name. The Parler app, which closed in April 2023 after being sold to a new owner, has had a troubled history since its launch in 2018. Before the app was shut down, the app was initially banned from app stores in 2021 for its alleged role in helping organize the January 6, 2021: riot at the US Capitol.

Now, ahead of the 2024 election, the Parler app, which was resold in late 2023, has been reintroduced to Apple’s App Store as part of an invite-only rollout. Although the app is not yet available to the general public, the timing of the app’s attempted rebranding is raising questions for some extremism experts.

Jon Lewis, a researcher at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, spoke to Yahoo News about whether Parler can break away from its past as it tries to rebrand itself. Lewis said he doesn’t see a future where Parler’s reputation won’t precede it, likely making it difficult for the app to attract a new user base.

“My liberal Facebook parents are not eager to visit Parler when they see it is available again in the App Store,” Lewis said. “[Parler’s] The core membership will still be the people who think there will be election interference and that elections will be stolen this year.”

Parler has always marketed itself as a social media platform that stands out from mainstream alternatives like X and Facebook, especially when it comes to content moderation – or lack thereof. But Parler’s content policy, which attracted the audience in the first place, was ultimately overturned after it was allegedly used to plan the storming of the Capitol. Can the app escape its problematic past with this new rebrand?

“Parler’s purpose is to provide a platform where users can express themselves freely without fear of censorship or discrimination,” a Parler spokesperson told Yahoo News. “Parler 3.0 aims to promote constructive conversations and positive engagement among users.”

Parler’s spokesperson did not give Yahoo News an exact date when the app will be available to the public. The app is not yet back on the Google Play storefront. Neither Apple nor Google responded to Yahoo News’ request for comment.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What was the purpose of launching Parler in 2018?

Parler was first launched in 2018 and promoted as a “free speech” social media platform where posts would not be moderated. The promise of zero moderation attracted users who had been banned from other platforms, such as X, formerly known as Twitter, and Facebook.

Conservative figureheads such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky promoted Parler as “a platform [that] understands what freedom of expression is about.”

Rebekah Mercer, an early investor in the app and daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who was a major donor to former President Donald Trump and Breitbart News, said she joined original Parler CEO John Matze in his mission to ” to provide a neutral platform for freedom of expression’, away from ‘the ever-increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords’.

The app exploded in popularity in 2019 and 2020 as Republicans accused social media platforms like Facebook of “disproportionately suppressing social media.”[ing] and censor[ing] conservative views online.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal reported that Parler’s user base more than doubled to 10 million users in less than a week in 2020. A supportive tweet from conservative activist Candace Owens reportedly single-handedly encouraged 40,000 new users to sign up.

Why was Parler originally banned from app stores?

In January 2021, days after the Capitol insurrection and after President Donald Trump was banned from multiple social media platforms, Parler was reportedly the most downloaded app from Apple’s App Store in the US.

On January 9, 2021, Amazon, which hosted Parler on its Amazon Web Services, told the app that it would suspend services after receiving reports of a “steady increase in this violent content” across the platform.

Amazon was referring to allegations that Parler was used to help coordinate the insurrection at the Capitol. In the aftermath of the attack, the app was now flooded with death threats, celebrations of violence and other messages encouraging “patriots” to bring weapons to Washington DC the day before President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

CNN reported at the time that the app was dominated by “accounts with swastikas as their profile pictures and disgusting racist messages.” ProPublica found more than 500 videos uploaded to Parler during the attack, some from as far away as the Capitol.

While the second version of the Parler app was restored to the Google Play app store and Apple’s App Store in September 2022, the app has been offline since April 2023, after being purchased from its original owners by the marketing company Starboard for a undisclosed amount. . Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, was also in talks to buy the company in late 2022.

Despite the similarities to Truth Social — Trump’s response to the banning of Facebook and is a viable business. not anymore.”

Instead, Starboard said it would leverage Parler’s assets, as well as its user base, to help its other existing businesses.

How will it be different this time?

Today, the Parler app is owned by former Parler executive Elise Pierotti, as well as Ryan Rhodes and Jaco Booyens, who bought the app for an undisclosed amount in December.

While the goal is to “uphold the values ​​of free expression and open dialogue,” a Parler spokesperson told Yahoo News that there will now be “measures for reasonable content moderation and community guidelines to prevent abuse of the platform.”

“Certain types of content are strictly prohibited on our platform, including illegal activities, violence, harassment and threats,” the spokesperson told Yahoo News. “Any violation of these guidelines will be promptly addressed through appropriate mitigation measures.”

Pierotti told NBC News in December that Parler would have its own servers in the US to avoid relying on Amazon Web Services again.

Pierotti also noted that X, now owned by Elon Musk, is still available in app stores despite that platform’s relaxation of speech rules and moderation. In November 2023, multiple advertisers raised concerns about their ads appearing next to pro-Nazi content and hate speech on X.

“I’m one of those people who believe that hate speech is different for different people,” Pierotti told NBC. “I am not an arbiter of the truth.”

In response to Pierotti’s statement to NBC, Lewis, the extremism expert, told Yahoo News: “This right-wing ecosystem has no idea what free speech actually means.”

“They think freedom of speech means they have an unfettered right to post whatever they want on any platform and they can’t face consequences because we have the First Amendment,” Lewis said. “None of these platforms have any obligation to allow their spaces to be used to threaten, dehumanize, or spread conspiracies. Many of them still are because most of these platforms don’t care or want to do the bare minimum.

Is there a place for Parler in today’s social media landscape?

“Certainly the big question from my perspective is: Do you even need Parler if you now have X?” Lewis asked. “I think the complete collapse of Twitter as a moderated social media platform has certainly allowed it to pick up most of the disgruntled, disenchanted Parler members who were looking for a new cesspool to swim in.”

Lewis argues that the conditions under which Parler was able to become popular in 2020 have changed dramatically.

“[Parler] will definitely try to return to this kind of former glory,” Lewis said, explaining that the “former glory” is about being the platform for right-wing conspiracy theorists. “[But] Today, [conspiracy theorists] I see Twitter as the easiest and most mainstream place where they will get the most attention and reach.”

There’s also 4chan, an anonymous message board platform with an infamous “politically incorrect” section that counts Tucker Carlson as a fan, as well as former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social.

The way the public holds social media platforms accountable has also changed since 2020. On March 19, a New York judge made the historic decision that families of victims of the 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York should be allowed to prove how social media sites can be held responsible.

The Parler representative told Yahoo News that it has “a number of new features” that will be rolled out to “differentiate us from other platforms over the next year.” However, whether and how the new Parler plans to prevent its users from promoting hateful or violent content remains to be seen.

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