A post-election social media revolution? Why conservatives are turning to a new platform, Parler

The social media platform Parler has seen an influx of millions of new users after many in the US media predicted that Biden would win the 2020 US election. The platform claims to be uncensored and a “fair alternative” to Twitter.

On the weekend after the media predicted Biden’s victory, Parler became the number one downloaded app in the Apple Store. According to a tweet from the media’s founder, John Matze, Parler was downloaded by more than 2 million people on Nov. 8, the day after the media announced Biden’s victory. Matze said, “I expected 1 million downloads, but 2 million? You guys are fanatical!”

Parler currently has more than 8 million subscribers, compared to 4.5 million a week ago, according to Parler COO and investor Jeffrey Wernick, quoted in the Washington Post on November 11. But its users and traffic is still very small compared to traditional social media. Twitter currently has about 340 million users, while Facebook is the most used social media in the world, sitting at nearly 2.7 billion users.

“The Conservative Twitter,”

Parler was created in September 2018 and is based in Henderson, Nevada, USA. Currently, the majority of Parler users are conservatives who believe Twitter is biased against conservatives, censoring the tweets they post and setting many restrictions.

On Parler, you’ll see many American conservative figures, including former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, Senator Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Here you’ll also find Stefan Molyneux, the right-wing Canadian commentator who has been banned from YouTube, and Laura Loomer, the far-right activist who has been pinned from Facebook and Twitter. Traditional social media have accused them of spreading hate speech and racist rhetoric on their platforms.

One of Parler’s founders, Maze, said in a media interview that anything that can be said on the streets of New York can be published on Parler.

Texas Senator Cruz took to the YouTube platform in June of this year to attack Silicon Valley as already controlled by left-wing politicians and encouraged people to join Parler, a video that has already had over 26,000 hits. Cruz joined Parler in June of this year and currently has 3.5 million followers.

Mark Levin, chief of staff at the Justice Department under President Reagan and a popular conservative show host, took to Parler to urge supporters to join the platform as soon as possible. “If Facebook and Twitter continue to censor me, I will not stay on those platforms,” he wrote, “Parler is the best alternative, and if you believe in free speech, we need you.” Levin currently has 3 million followers on Parler, already surpassing his 2.7 million followers on Twitter.

Parler’s first user explosion came in June of this year, when Twitter began flagging President Trump’s tweets about vote-by-mail fraud as a reminder to check them out. Conservatives saw it as evidence that Twitter was controlled by left-wing politicians.

At the time, Parler published an “online declaration of independence” modeled after the U.S. Declaration of Independence and began using the phrase #Twexit (a parody of Brexit) to get people off Twitter. They described Twitter as a “cyber tyrant” for censoring conservative speech.

Mazer also said that while Parler welcomes conservative voices, he also wants liberal ideas. In June, Parler said it would offer a $20,000 bonus to any liberal with at least 50,000 followers on Twitter or Facebook who wanted to join the platform.

Is Parler really neutral?

Parler’s user guide says it will keep censorship to a minimum and will not fact-check posts, but will remove extremists, child pornography and copyright violations.

Currently Parler’s main users tend to be right-wing conservative and support President Trump’s rhetoric challenging the outcome of the U.S. election. Popular hashtags on Parler include Civil War II (#civilwar2), the New Crown scam (#covidhoax2020) and the Biden riots (#bidenriots).

How does Parler’s user guide define censorship of speech? “Under no circumstances will Parler remove or censor users’ posts or delete their accounts for expressing an opinion on an issue. However, the guidelines also explicitly state that it will remove “terrorist groups, child pornography, or copyright violations.”

Benedict Evans, a leading Silicon Valley tech industry analyst and partner at venture capital giant Andreessen Horowitz, told VOA that five or six years ago, Twitter and Facebook were saying the same thing as Parler is now.

“That’s what they say when a platform doesn’t have a lot of users yet, or hasn’t had these kinds of problems yet,” he said.

However, tech news site techdirt cited some left-wing figures who were blocked after Parler spoke out against and mocked right-wingers.

Meanwhile, an Arkansas sheriff called on similarly-minded people on Parler to go to Congress after the media announced Biden had won the election and “execute radical leftists!” A day later, the sheriff resigned, his Parler account uncancelled but in a locked private state.

Can Parler go down in flames?

New media platforms present both opportunities and challenges, and the fact that Parler now offers a more relaxed environment for users means it attracts this like-minded segment of the population.

As for the reasons for Parler’s rapid growth, Robert Bluey, vice president of media affairs at the Heritage Foundation and an expert on online media, told VOA that conservatives have complained about censorship of speech on Twitter and Facebook for a long time.

“There are enough people moving to Parler now, looking for alternatives to Facebook and Twitter, that it’s motivating people to see if the new platforms will allow information to flow more freely,” he said.

Bruy believes that Parler has become a competitor to Twitter, and the next challenge for the platform will be to maintain user growth and build a strong user base. “Parler should also ensure that the platform is not just a place for conservatives, but also liberals to engage in the debate,” he said.

Professor Amarnath Amarasingam, who studies extremism, said that “talking to yourself in the dark corners of the Internet is not that satisfying,” noting that unless liberals are also able to join Parler, he is skeptical of the influence that Parler generates.

Silicon Valley analyst Evans, on the other hand, is skeptical that Parler can replace platforms like Twitter because Parler doesn’t have innovative technology unlike other platforms.

“The platform is basically a clone of Twitter, and frankly, the user interface and software quality is low. We don’t see any new ways to share information.” He said. “I think the app is skyrocketing in downloads right now because people are still debating the election results.”

Parler currently supports 28 bells of language interfaces including English, Chinese, German and Arabic.

Parler has also seen an increase in downloads in China

Charlie Smith, a tech watcher and founder of GreatFire.org, told VOA that there are indications that Parler’s downloads and usage in China have increased over the past few months.

Smith’s research shows that Parler had not been blocked by the firewall this summer, but the site is now 100 percent blocked.

“Chinese authorities will block any platform that allows free speech, which is why Parler has been blocked in China. But in general, only enough users of a platform are noticed by censors,” said Smith, “so I’m guessing that Parler’s users in China have also seen growth since this summer.”