Parler Media swears it has changed. But can the app escape its troubled 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, one social media platform is attempting its second rebrand. The Parler app, which closed in April 2023 after being sold to new ownership, has had a rocky history since its launch in 2018. Before it was shut down, the app was first banned from app stores in 2021 due to his alleged role in helping organize the Parler app. January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol.

Now, ahead of the 2024 election, the Parler app, which went on sale again at the end of 2023, has been put back on Apple’s App Store as part of an invite-only rollout. Although it is not yet available to the general public, the timing of the attempt to rebrand the app raises questions for some extremism experts.

Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, spoke to Yahoo News about whether Parler can distance himself from his past now that he’s trying to rebrand himself. Lewis said he doesn’t see a future where Parler’s reputation won’t precede it, making it difficult for the app to attract a new user base.

“My liberal Facebook parents aren’t dying to get into Parler when they see it’s available in the App Store again,” Lewis said. “[Parler’s] the core membership will still remain with those who think there will be election interference and that an election 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 it was Parler’s content policies, which drew audiences in the first place, that ultimately led to its being overturned after it was allegedly used to plan the storming of the Capitol. With this new rebrand, can the app escape its troubled past?

“Parler’s goal 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 is focused on fostering constructive conversations and positive engagement among users.”

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

Let’s go back to the beginning. What was Parler’s goal to launch in 2018?

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

Conservative leaders such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul promoted Parler as a “platform [that] he gets what free speech is all about.”

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

The app exploded into the public eye in 2019 and 2020 when Republicans accused social media platforms like Facebook of being “disproportionately oppressive[ing] and censorship[ing] conservative opinions online.”

A Wall Street Journal article reported that Parler’s user base more than doubled to 10 million users in less than a week in 2020. Allegedly, one supportive tweet from conservative activist Candace Owens prompted 40,000 new users to sign up.

Why was Parler banned from app stores in the first place?

In January 2021, days after the Capitol uprising 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 United States.

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

Amazon was referring to the allegations that Parler was used to help coordinate the uprising at the Capitol building. As a result of the attack, the app now featured death threats, celebrations of violence and other posts that encouraged “patriots” to bring arms to Washington, DC the day before President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

CNN reported at the time that the app featured “accounts with swastikas as their profile picture and disgusting racist posts”. ​​​​​​ProPublica found more than 500 videos uploaded to Parler during the attack, some even from inside the Capitol building.

Although the second app of the Parler app was reinstated on the Google Play app store and Apple’s App Store in September 2022, the app has been offline since April 2023, after marketing firm Starboard bought it from the original owners for an undisclosed amount . Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, was also in talks to buy the company in late 2022.

Despite its similarities to Truth Social — Trump’s response to being banned from Facebook and X after Jan. 6 — Starboard closed Parler after its purchase, with one representative saying, “No reasonable person believes a Twitter clone is a viable business for conservatives only. no more.”

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

How will things 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 sum in December.

While the goal is to “uphold its values ​​of free speech and open dialogue,” a Parler spokesperson told Yahoo News that there will be “measures now in place 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 activity, violence, harassment and threats,” a Yahoo News spokesperson said. “Any violations of these guidelines will be dealt with promptly through appropriate moderation 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 the platform itself having speech and moderation rules. In November 2023, multiple advertisers expressed concern about their ads appearing alongside pro-Nazi content and X hate speech.

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

“They think free speech means they have an unfettered, unfettered right to post whatever they want on any platform and they can’t suffer consequences for it because we have the First Amendment,” Lewis said. “None of these platforms are under any obligation to use their spaces to threaten, depopulate, spread conspiracies. There are still a lot of them because most of these platforms don’t care or want to do the bare minimum.”

Does Parler have a place in the social media landscape right now?

“Of course the big question for me is, do you even need Parler when you have X now?” Lewis asked. “I think the total collapse of Twitter as a moderated social media platform certainly allowed it to find most of the disgruntled and disaffected Parler members looking for a new backpool to swim in.”

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

“[Parler] He will definitely try to return to this kind of past glory,” Lewis explained, explaining that the “past glory” is about being a platform for right-wing conspiracy theorists. “[But] today, [conspiracy theorists] see Twitter as the easiest and most mainstream place to get the most eyes and the most engagement.”

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

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

A Parler representative told Yahoo News that it has “some new features” that will be implemented to “differentiate us from other platforms in the coming year.” However, it remains to be seen if the new Parler plans to prevent its users from promoting hateful or violent content.

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