After being banished from major tech platforms in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the conservative-leaning social app Parler has been reaccepted into Apple’s App Store after having agreed to create a less offensive version for iPhone users.
According to the Washington Post, Parler is using a new artificial intelligence moderation system with “more stringent standards” exclusively for the App Store. Posts that receive the “hate” label by the AI moderation system will immediately be excluded from Parler’s iPhone version. However, those who use Parler on the web or on Android devices will be able to click through the label to view such content.
“The entire Parler team has worked hard to address Apple’s concerns without compromising our core mission,” Parler interim CEO Mark Meckler told The Verge Monday. “Anything allowed on the Parler network but not in the iOS app will remain accessible through our web-based and Android versions. This is a win-win for Parler, its users, and free speech.”
Founded in August 2018, Parler emerged as alternative to mainstream social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. It marketed itself as a free speech utopia, touting “free expression without violence and no censorship.” In the two weeks following the 2020 presidential election, Parler doubled its user base to more than 10 million registered users, topping other alternative social media platforms like BitChute, MeWe, and Gab. Among those users were prominent Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Parler also became home to a range of far-right extremists, including members of the Proud Boys, QAnon adherents, militia members and anti-government extremists from the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters organizations, and dangerous conspiracy-mongers such as Alex Jones. The social app became a cesspool for election fraud misinformation, QAnon conspiracy theories, hate speech, and instances of incitement, especially in the lead-up to the insurrection.
In the days following the Capitol breach, Google pulled Parler from its Play Store. Apple followed suit, removing the social app from its App Store for not taking “adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety.” Amazon later removed Parler from its cloud hosting service, rendering the site inoperable for a period of time. Parler has struggled to regain its footing, suffering several multi day outages that frustrated users across conservative circles, many of whom proceeded to turn to alternative social apps.
Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging application that also provides end-to-end encryption, emerged as a frontrunner for conservatives and far-right extremists over the past few months. Founded in 2013, Telegram grew in popularity due to its stability as well as its ability to host public channels with unlimited subscribers, making it an ideal tool for broadcasting information with minimal regulation. It is also characterized by its sparse content moderation, end-to-end encryption, secret chats, and stable tools for mass communication.
Among those who joined Telegram in 2021 include popular conservative voices like Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, and Candace Owens, as well as politicians with ties to the QAnon conspiracy movement such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Madison Cawthorn. Conservative media sources such as The Epoch Times, Breitbart, PragerU, The Daily Wire, Right Side Broadcasting Network, and The Blaze also have accounts on Telegram. The app is home to countless far-right extremists, many of whom have used their publicly accessible channels to incite violence and spread propaganda and disinformation with the intention of heightening political tension. (Author’s Note: Read Right Wing Watch’s reporting on Telegram here)
Another alternative to Parler is Gab, a far-right social media space that first gained a foothold among extremists in 2016. Following the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Anti-Defamation League called for a U.S. Justice Department investigation into Gab and its CEO, Andrew Torba, for possible criminal liability in the Capitol breach. The ADL’s call is based on the fact that Gab users openly called for violence in the lead-up to the insurrection, while Torba encouraged users to post footage on Gab.
“Document as much as you can and please know that your content is safe on Gab and Gab TV,” Torba posted on Gab the day before the insurrection.
Beyond Gab and Telegram, there is currently a growing demand for decentralized social media platforms that would operate as censorship-resistant spaces. These include BitClout, a decentralized social media platform developed on blockchain technology that allows users to buy and sell tokens based on people’s reputations or “clout.” BitClout allows users to monetize their social media presence in a way that is not possible on mainstream social media platforms such as Twitter. The app was popularized by Ali Alexander, the far-right leader of the so-called Stop the Steal movement. (Author’s Note: Read Right Wing Watch’s reporting on BitClout here)
As for Parler, several of its top promoters already appear to have abandoned ship. Earlier this month, Fox news contributor Dan Bongino claimed that he did not know why Parler was offline and didn’t want to discuss the topic further.
“Parler’s been down,” Bongino said during the May 6 episode of his podcast. Don’t ask me why — again, haven’t been involved in forever.”