Right-wing commentators and media personalities are again threatening to abandon Twitter in favor of Parler, an alternative social media platform where they say they won’t be persecuted for holding conservative beliefs. Nearly identical calls for a Twitter exodus echoed through right-wing social media circles last year, but the transition failed to take hold at any major scale.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign was weighing alternatives to traditional social media platforms after Twitter and Facebook took moderation actions against posts from the president and his campaign. Facebook last week removed Trump campaign ads that contained red inverted triangles—a symbol used by Nazis to designate political prisoners in concentration camps—citing site policies against organized hate. Twitter has recently added warning labels and fact-checking links to Trump tweets that contain misinformation or content that violates Twitter community guidelines.
The Journal reported that the recent moderation action has “top campaign officials considering alternatives, such as moving to another, lesser known company, building their own platform or doubling down on efforts to move supporters to the campaign’s smartphone app, according to people familiar with the discussions.” One possibility reportedly floated by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale is a Twitter alternative called Parler.
The social platform Parler, launched in 2018, bills itself as an alternative to Twitter, closely resembling the all-but-defunct app Gab, which was quickly overrun with extremists and conspiracy theorists shortly after its inception. Like Gab, Parler has become home to its own pockets of far-right extremists who enjoy the platform’s loose content moderation policies. Although Parler claims to be nonideological, it exists currently as a bastion of almost exclusively pro-Trump, right-wing content. Trump’s campaign teased nearly identical considerations to the press this time last year, but a shift to Parler never materialized in any major sense.
The Daily Beast reported last year that Parler and Gab were locked in a heated standoff over which platform Trump would post on first, although as it stands Trump has yet to give up Twitter—where he is able to shape national news with 280 characters a tweet at a time and reach more than 82 million followers. No reporting since then has indicated serious plans for Trump to join either platform soon.
But with Parler in the news, Trump’s leading online sycophants are once again vowing to abandon Twitter once and for all.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California has joined the chorus of voices promoting Parler after news broke that he had unsuccessfully waged a lawsuit against an anonymous Twitter user running a parody account pretending to be Nunes’ fictional cow. Unfortunately for Nunes, the pseudonymous cow has followed him to Parler.
I’m at Parler! Come say hi! pic.twitter.com/CDXJiMZ0d7
— Devin Nunes’ cow 🐮 (@DevinCow) June 25, 2020
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—who is currently blocking legislation that would make lynching a federal crime—and his wife Kelley Paul plugged Parler yesterday and urged their followers to join the social network. Kelley Paul wrote that the couple was sick of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and “his cultural revolution censorship.”
— Kelley Paul (@KelleyAshbyPaul) June 24, 2020
Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller promoted the site. So did BlazeTV host Graham Allen, right-wing legal advocate Harmeet Dhillon, The Federalist co-founder Sean Davis, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Public Affairs Michael Caputo, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, and right-wing commentator Dan Bongino (who has an ownership stake in the website)—just to name a few. Those with existing accounts, like Bill Mitchell, vowed to start spending more time on the site now that it is once again in vogue.
Right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza tweeted that he posted on Parler and found the experience similar to Twitter, “But the air is much freer over there. Too bad we have semi-literate punks on this platform determining what can and cannot be said.”
Benny Johnson, chief creative officer at Turning Point USA, claimed that after 10 years on Twitter, he was “done.” He said he had joined Parler, which he preferred to “communist gulag dumpster fire” Twitter. However, in the following tweet, Johnson stated that he would keep posting on Twitter until he is banned.
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) June 24, 2020
It remains unlikely that Parler will wholeheartedly replace Twitter for conservatives and right-wing activists online. The inherent properties of social media reward conflict and controversy; like-minded echo chambers provide little space for the kind of conflict that drives engagement on platforms like Twitter. The Washington Examiner reports that Parler claims about 1 million monthly users which, if true, is about 0.003 percent of Twitter’s monthly user base.
Hannah Yoest writes at the conservative publication The Bulwark that Parler is staged to exist as a right-wing “safe space” for “triggered” right-wing personalities. Yoest writes:
Parler has been ready and waiting for the right’s final disillusionment with Twitter.
If Parler succeeds in siphoning off a portion of right-wing Twitter, it will be in keeping with conservatives’ decades-long practice of creating alternative institutions that allow them to indulge in a fantasy reality fetishizing persecution while isolating themselves from wider society.
It remains to be seen if conservatives will transition to Parler in any meaningful way for the long haul, or if the latest push to exit Twitter will fall to the wayside as it did with prior efforts. No evidence exists to prove conservatives’ claims that they are subject to systemic suppression on social media platforms. Rather, data shows that right-wing content is among some of the most consistently high-performing online content.