In the wake of the election, attention has turned to social media as web users, pundits, and even the president himself debate the results. In all the uproar, a new social media platform has entered the conversation: Parler. But what exactly is Parler, and why are some calling it a haven for right-wing extremists?
The fledgling social media app has made the news recently largely thanks to its “hands-off” style of content moderation. On its website, Parler bills itself as a place to “[s]peak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views.”
Programmers John Matze and Jared Thomson founded the app in 2018, with financial backing from Rebecca Mercer, formerly of President Trump’s transition team following his 2016 victory.
“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,” Mercer said in a recent post to the platform. “The ever-increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining, and for the protection of speech online. That someone is Parler, a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech and personal privacy.”
A Space For Extremists?
While the platform purports to be politically neutral, some civil rights watchdogs have criticized Parler for fomenting right-wing extremist rhetoric.
“While the site itself is not extremist, extremists have joined Parler in large numbers alongside millions of mainstream users, creating the potential for extensive and worrying commingling of extremists and non-extremists,” read a statement from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
According to an ADL report, the site has attracted known extremist groups including the Proud Boys, who have 102,000 Parler followers, and QAnon+, which has 44,000.
The site’s popularity has risen sharply in the wake of the election. In the following week alone, Parler gained 3.5 million new users. According to tech analyst Benedict Evans, the influx was largely driven by misinformation surrounding voter fraud.
“Parler is a weak clone of Twitter, but you can go there to talk about one particular issue that’s now mostly blocked on Twitter,” Evans told ABC News, referring to voter fraud misinformation.
Among those who have generated controversy for pushing voter fraud theories has been Mandalorian star Gina Carano. With many of her posts on Twitter drawing criticism for spreading misinformation, the actress has publicly voiced support for Parler.
You can join me over @parler_app— Gina Carano 🕯 (@ginacarano) November 14, 2020
I go by GinaJoyCarano 🎈Joy is my middle name. 😊
Weak Growth Prospects
While Parler is enjoying a surge in membership, experts are skeptical that it could eventually achieve Facebook- or Twitter-level success.
“[H]ow many people care about that one issue [of voter fraud]? And do they care enough to spend all their time there, and not on Twitter or Facebook where all the other news and discussions are happening?” said Evans.
Others warn, however, that even if Parler doesn’t succeed, the negative repercussions of its moderation policy will endure.
“There are consequences with people using apps like Parler,” said Fadi Quran, campaign director of the Avaaz organization, which studies misinformation. “Facebook and Twitter have to be ready when they come back because many of them will want to instigate violence and spread more misinformation.”
Despite these widespread criticisms, the app’s founders insist they did not create it with a pro-Trump slant.
“The whole company was never intended to be a pro-Trump thing,” co-founder John Matze told CNBC in June. “A lot of the audience is pro-Trump. I don’t care. I’m not judging them either way. We’re a community town square, an open town square, with no censorship.”