Conservatives Move From Twitter To Parler


Meiling Laurence, Staff Writer

In the weeks surrounding this year’s general election, mainstream social media platforms cracked down on election misinformation and conspiracy theories.  Both Facebook and Twitter flagged misleading posts, including several by President Trump and other prominent Republicans, that contained unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud or premature declarations of victory.  Twitter took this a step further by obscuring some posts altogether.  Additionally, Facebook blocked accounts promoting QAnon, a group of right-wing conspiracy theorists who, among other things, claim that certain top Democratic politicians are in charge of a child sex-trafficking ring. 

Some conservatives viewed these social media companies’ aggressive approaches to regulating false content as an insult to their freedom of speech, and accused Facebook and Twitter of unilaterally censoring conservative voices.  Influential conservative media figures and politicians, including Fox business anchor Maria Bartiromo and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, proposed a solution to their woes: encouraging their followers to abandon Twitter and sign up for a new conservative social media app called “Parler.”  Many right-wingers heeded their advice, and Parler’s popularity skyrocketed in November, with its users doubling from five million to ten million. 

“I believe that it’s necessary that there’s a social media platform where people don’t have to worry about their posts being taken down because of political reasons,” said junior Jack Lieblein.

Founded in 2018 by 27-year-old John Matze, Parler describes itself as the world’s “premier free speech social network.”  On the surface, it resembles Twitter: users share their own opinions and amplify others that they agree with via short posts.  However, unlike mainstream apps like Twitter that have implemented rules to curtail hate speech and misinformation, Parler’s content regulation is strikingly minimal.  It only has two community guidelines: it blocks spam and bots from its platform, and it does not knowingly allow criminal activity. 

As a result, bigotry—in the form of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism—and conspiracy theories have flourished on Parler.  A review of the platform conducted by CapRadio, the public radio service of the California State University, Sacramento, revealed users promoting violence against the Jewish community and spreading neo-Nazi propaganda.  QAnon and white supremacy groups such as the Proud Boys also enjoy unrestricted posting privileges on the site. 

“Truth is the foundation of any functioning, safe society.  A site that doesn’t take proper precautions in regulating misinformation could be not only upsetting, but downright dangerous,” said junior Hannah Brooks. 

Though Parler’s limited content regulation is a positive attribute in the eyes of many of its users, the company’s hands-off approach could hamper its prospects later on should hatred from the platform manifest in the offline world.  This is what happened with Gab, an alt-right social networking platform that had been gaining traction until 2018, when it was revealed that the shooter who killed 11 people at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue had previously posted

on Gab about his plans to do so.  Gab subsequently faced widespread public condemnation and was dropped by web-hosting and payment providers. 

“Any platform that openly permits misinformation and hate speech to run rampant is blatantly irresponsible.  A business has a responsibility to protect its consumers.  Just because hate speech is protected under the First Amendment does not make it right to condone it,” said junior Natalie Parker. 

While Parler is currently having its moment in the spotlight, the extent of its long term influence is still uncertain.  Although millions of conservatives have signed up for the app in recent weeks, most have not altogether abandoned Facebook and Twitter.  Shannon McGregor, a social media researcher at the University of North Carolina’s Center for Information, Technology and Public Life, explained this in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.  She said that in the past, political social media has struggled because partisan warfare is part of what keeps users engaged; it can get boring living in an echo-chamber where dissent is entirely absent. 

In addition, Parler’s algorithm is simplistic compared with today’s most popular social media sites, which analyze user data extensively to create customized feeds for each person.  Parler, by contrast, merely displays posts from accounts its users follow in reverse chronological order.  As a result, the virality that characterizes most social media platforms today is less pronounced on Parler. 

“I feel that Parler will have a lasting influence at least for a little while.  However, since it’s still unclear, I’m interested to see where it will lead,” said junior Kayla Quan.