A few days ago, the Parler app made headlines around the world. Before that, hardly anyone knew it existed and now everyone is wondering why it’s been shut down.
Adding to the confusion is why Donald Trump and his supporters got involved. What does the president of the United States have to do with it?
What is Parler?
Parler is a lot like Twitter in that it’s a social network, as well as a microblogging platform. Users can share their opinions and interact with others.
Since its launch in August 2018, the creators of Parler have billed it as the social network for freedom of expression and have positioned themselves as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook which have a stricter moderation policy.
Parler has been especially popular with members of the far right and is known for providing a space for Islamophobic, anti-Semitist, anti-feminist and far-right content in general.
This is why it has attracted supporters of Donald Trump, who find it more difficult to share comments of this type on other platforms. It was a platform for spreading conspiracy theories including QAnon, which alleges the existence of an organised plot against Trump and his followers.
It was also one of the platforms that was used to plan the assault on the Capitol on January 6. Blaming Trump for using his platform to incite violence to those responsible for the attack, Twitter kicked the president off the social network .
Parler benefited hugely from Twitter’s decision, as many decided to switch to the app. Briefly, it became one the most-downloaded app on the App Store.
Why has Parler been removed from app stores?
The first to announce that it was removing Parler from its app store was Google, saying that the app had failed to remove posts which incited violence. Apple followed suit, after Parler’s creators refused to implement a moderation policy.
Parler’s CEO John Matze said, “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”
But it wasn’t until Amazon announced that it was suspending Parler from using Amazon Web Services, that it was permanently shut down.
The trio justified their decision saying that the platform’s absence of moderation policies is a real threat to the security of the United States, as demonstrated by the assault on the Capitol.
Two days later, on January 11, Parler sued Amazon for anti-competition. According to Parler, Amazon’s decision had been conditioned by political issues and that they had taken it to reduce competition in the world of microblogging platforms and thus benefit Twitter.
Is Parler’s closure censorship?
The decision has been applauded by those who accuse Parler of giving a voice to those responsible for organising an attack on the Capitol, as well as others like it.
Others have expressed concern about the power that technology companies have on the internet and their supposed non-neutrality when deciding to whom they provide their services.
They also question if Google, Apple and Amazon apply their rules fairly.
Can the decision of Google, Apple and Amazon be considered censorship? Are Google, Apple and Amazon violating the freedom of expression according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN?
Article 19 of this declaration includes our right “to freedom of opinion and expression” to “maintain opinions without interference and to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas through any means of communication.”
However, as well explained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, this freedom entails “special rights and responsibilities”, among other reasons, “for the protection of national security or public order”.
It seems to have been demonstrated that the violent events of January 6 at the Capitol in Washington were a direct consequence of having allowed a message of hatred to spread that has permeated a large part of the American population.
Trump’s followers, encouraged by the president himself, have been convinced of an alleged fraud in the general election that has given Joe Biden the victory. They believe they have the right to defend those beliefs regardless of the consequences, and do so using apps such as Parler.
Will Parler ever return?
Matze remains convinced that Parler will be back at some point. He has not been able to specify a timeframe, and does recognise that it may never happen.
He says the best way for the platform to reopen its doors would be if it could continue to use Amazon’s web hosting services although for this it may have to wait until the lawsuit it has filed the company is over.
Parler could of course look for another platform from which to operate, and Matze said on another occasion he was prepared for this sort of eventuality.
Only time will tell if Parler will return. In the current political context, it is difficult to imagine that any tech company will allow it to use its services, but the solution may lie in finding one that’s more in line with its ideals.
This article first appeared on PCWorld Spain.