How Parler went offline, and how it might come back

How Parler went offline, and how it might come back

2021-01-12 23:50:00

Parler, the largely unmoderated social network popular with conservatives, often found fans by spotting Big Tech. But after the site was pulled from the internet over the weekend, it's more clear than ever how even peripheral services have to rely on mainstream technology providers. Now Parler is apparently trying to rebuild – with or without the help of Big Tech.

It was reported Monday that Parler had registered his domain with Epik, a web hosting service that has previously done so housed Gab, the far-right forum used by the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter. At the moment it is unclear where that effort is: Epik had previously said it was no relationship with Parler, although at least one leader appears to be with the company Open to work with the platform.

Parler's shutdown comes in the aftermath of the January 6 riot, in which a mob of people objecting to the results of the 2020 presidential election broke into the Capitol. Before the uprising, reports on Parler encouraged violence in Washington as President-elect Joe Biden's victory on Capitol Hill concluded, and after that, the platform continued to host violent content, including threats against Vice President Mike Pence.

Several major tech companies, including Google, Amazon and Apple, severed their relationship with Parler in the days following the event. This effectively took the platform offline, around the same time that Facebook was indefinitely suspended and Twitter permanently banned President Trump.

"Civil society and others expressed concern about Parler long before last week because of the types of extremism, racism and anti-Semitism that have blossomed on that site," said Isedua Oribhabor, a US policy analyst with the digital rights group Access Now, who announced the platform described as "a place that has attracted extremists because of their lax or nonexistent form of content moderation".

In closing Parler, several tech companies said they were trying to reduce the risk of violence and force the platform to moderate calls to violence more aggressively. Parler's collapse also showed the tech industry's tremendous power to control what appears on the web and in app stores. With Parler looking for ways to get back online, it faces an uphill battle to rebuild his former self without the help of Big Tech. That or it could be moderated slightly differently and more strictly.

To get back online, it's possible that Parler will change his tone when moderating content

In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol violence, politicians, activist groups, and employees of companies working with Parler began calling for action against the platform for its role in fostering the uprising.

Google was the first to start Parler from the Play Store on January 8. Apple gave Parler 24 hours to implement stricter management policies, but after it fell short, Parler removed from the App Store on January 9. Amazon Parler suspended of its web hosting service on Jan. 10, under pressure from Staff members at the company and at least one legislator, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). Amazon told Parler in a letter obtained by Recode that violent content on the platform – and its lack of moderation – meant that Parler was in violation of Amazon's terms of service.

Evidence suggests that Parler could try to change his approach to moderation to get back online, although it's not clear how willing Amazon would be to work with the platform again.

When Apple reached out to Parler and threatened to ban the app, Parler offered to set up a content moderation "task force" for the time being, though Apple said the effort was not enough and did not meet the requirements. With threats of boot up, Parler told Amazon it planned to moderate its content more aggressively with volunteers, which Amazon said Parler "would not work in the face of the rapidly growing number of violent posts." Parler also removed some content after being contacted by both Amazon and Apple, said the Wall Street Journal.

A Google spokesperson told Recode that Parler had been banned "until" it addressed the moderation issues, and Apple made a similar statement.

While Parler's leadership has historically been challenging over the lack of moderation – and has been critical of companies like Facebook and Twitter for their moderation – Parler CEO John Matze released a statement on Sunday that seemingly returned from this point of view, which he had expressed openly a few days earlier.

"Parler isn't a surveillance app, so we can't just write a few algorithms that can quickly locate 100% of the offending content, especially during periods of rapid growth and seemingly coordinated malicious attacks accompanying that growth," said Matze. adding that the platform was working on improvement and would welcome "feedback".

Meanwhile, evidence is growing that Parler users were deeply involved in the planning and execution of the Capitol riot. After a security researcher archived almost all of Parler's messages – including the GPS coordinates of users' video locations – before Amazon launched it from its servers, a Gizmodo analysis found several Parler users ventured deep into the Capitol on January 6. Parler users not only encouraged and celebrated the attack on the Capitol, some literally seemed to be at the center of events.

Parler could return without Big Tech's help, but that could take a while

When Reddit banned a pro-Trump subreddit called the_donald last June, amid an expansion of its hate speech policy, forum members turned to the messaging platform Discordbefore they are banned from that platform as well. When the far-right conspiracy theory site 8chan was dropped by its service providers after the 2019 El Paso mass shooting, reformed as 8kun. And when Gab, a right-wing social network used by the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter, got kicked off GoDaddy, Epik brought the site back online.

Parler can follow in the footsteps of these marginal services to get back online, a complicated effort that can take time. With many platforms reluctant to partner with Parler – the Wall Street Journal reported that Oracle Parler will not provide cloud services and that Microsoft does not have a hosting contract with Parler – Parler & # 39; s CEO has said that the company is now considering other cloud providers, although it is not clear what companies that can be. Some experts question Parler's ability to bounce back after it launches from Amazon Web Services, saying it will be incredibly difficult and take a while. "Parler will have to build its own infrastructure," he said Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols of ZDNet.

At the same time Dan Bongino, a right-wing conservative commentator who recently invested in the site said on Fox that he was willing to go out of business to help Parler return.

And of course, it can get the site Epik to host it. Epik SVP Robert Davis hinted in a statement that his company would be willing to partner with Parler if it developed moderation policies that could reduce violence. Davis too told New York Times technical reporter Jack Nicas that Parler had already registered his domain with Epik without Epik's knowledge. Once a deal has worked out, Davis added, it could take about 10 days for a preliminary version of Parler to be back online and as much as three months for a full version of the site to go live again. Epik did not respond to Recode's request for comment.

Parler may have disappeared, but the users have not

So it will probably take a while for Parler to be complete again. In the meantime, potential Parler users are likely to turn to other apps, said Oren Segal, a vice president of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.

“Before Parler went dark, while keeping an eye on the platform, we saw discussions about where people would migrate to – Telegram or Gab, etc.,” Segal told Recode. "They always prepare for where they are going, expecting their favorite platform to disappear."

There are several platforms and services that these users turn to. Telegram, a messaging platform that claims half a billion users and is increasingly known for hosting some far-right channels, has seen a surge in the number of downloads. Gab, a largely right-wing social network, also has reported an increase in traffic. Then there's the lesser-known site MeWe, a Facebook-like platform that recently tripled the number of downloads on the site, according to data obtained by Axios.

"People who don't want to go back to Facebook, who are pissed off on Twitter, will be looking for those alternative spaces," said Diara Townes, an investigative researcher and the community engagement leader at the misinformation and misinformation research firm First Draft. "They will have to navigate new user experiences through these platforms, but they are looking for these spaces."

"And the more they are pushed aside, the more erratic these spaces will become," added Townes.

So even if Parler doesn't come back, the users won't leave. We already know that white supremacist and conspiracy theoretical communities taken offline have returned to the Internet in the past, and all signs point to Parler's eventual resurrection.

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