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Parler rife with talk of guns and violence before Capitol riot

Parler rife with talk of guns and violence before Capitol riot

President Donald Trump

Trump’s reelection campaign joined the social media app Parler in 2018.

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Anyone perusing the conservative social media site Parler earlier this week might have predicted the mayhem that befell the Capitol on Wednesday.

Talk of guns and violence was widespread in discussions about President Donald Trump’s call for supporters to converge on the capital to support his baseless claims that the November election was stolen from him. One Parler user on a thread pushing a QAnon conspiracy theory said, “To all the Patriots descending on Washington DC on #jan6 ….come armed….”

Another expletive-laced message posted the day before the riot warned: “To all our enemies high and low you want a war? Well you’re asking for one…To the American people on the ground in DC today and all over this great nation, be prepared for anything.”

In an interview conducted Wednesday evening, as the nation was coming to grips with the mob violence in the US Capitol, the New York Times asked Parler CEO John Matze how such posts apparently advocating and threatening violence were allowed to appear on the site.

“Well, for violence and advocation of violence, or violence specifically, it needs to be a clear and imminent threat,” Matze told the Times’ Kara Swisher. “And I don’t know — I’ve been witnessing what happened today a little bit, but I’m not really too much in the weeds on this stuff.

“I haven’t seen a whole lot of illegal activity,” he said. “Maybe there has been some, but it’s a minority of the cases.”

In the wake of Twitter and Facebook cracking down on political misinformation by adding labels to posts including those shared by Trump, conservatives are flocking to Parler, which bills itself as a “free speech” platform. 

In November, high-profile conservatives urged others to join Parler after major news outlets projected Joe Biden’s victory. “Twitter has aided the Democrat Party in stealing this election and now everything Trump says is being silenced. Tell everyone you know to get on Parler,” far-right provocateur Laura Loomer told her more than 687,000 followers on Parler.

Twitter and Facebook, which have repeatedly denied allegations of conservative bias, suspended Loomer from their platforms for violating their rules. Twitter permanently suspended Loomer in 2018 after she falsely tweeted that Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, was “anti-Jewish” and “pro-Sharia.” Twitter said that Loomer, who had more than 260,000 followers on the site, was permanently banned for violating its rules against hateful conduct — and not because of her political beliefs, as she had claimed. Facebook suspended Loomer from the main social network and its photo service Instagram in 2019 for running afoul of its policy against “dangerous individuals.”

Loomer is just one of the millions of people who’ve recently sought refuge with Parler, which calls itself a nonbiased, free speech-driven platform. Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas have been promoting the app since Twitter started applying labels last year to Trump’s tweets that falsely claimed fraud with mail-in ballots or that the company said glorified violence. 

Parler has seen a wave of interest in the wake of election. In the week after the election, Parler was downloaded more than 2 million times in the US. The app has roughly 5 million installs, according to Sensor Tower.

While the app’s membership skews conservative, Matze said in November that “we welcome all to join our platform which emphasizes free speech and open discourse.” Facebook and Twitter have labeled posts that push baseless claims about voter fraud, but Parler has left those messages untouched on its platform. Matze told Fox News in November that Twitter and Facebook go too far by labeling Trump’s posts, accusing the platforms of biased “editorialization.”   

Here’s what you need to know about Parler.

What is Parler?

Launched in 2018, Parler is a social media app created by University of Denver graduates Matze and Jared Thomson. They came up with Parler because they were “exhausted with a lack of transparency in big tech, ideological suppression and privacy abuse,” according to Parler’s website

The private company is based in Henderson, Nevada, and has between 11 and 50 employees, according to LinkedIn. Parler means “to talk” in French and is meant to be pronounced as PAR-lay. But as more people started saying the app’s name like the English word “parlor,” that pronunciation took over.

The social network has a similar feel to Twitter. You follow accounts, and content appears in a chronological news feed. Users can post up to 1,000 characters, which is more than Twitter’s 280-character limit, and can upload photos, GIFs and memes. 

You can also comment on a post and search for hashtags. There’s a feature called “echo,” with a megaphone icon, that functions like the Twitter retweet button, and there’s an upvote icon for a feature that resembles “liking” a post on other social media platforms. As with other social networks, you have to be at least 13 years old to sign up for an account.

Who uses Parler?

Matze told Fox Business in June that Parler is used by mostly conservatives but that there have also been “left-leaning individuals” tied to the Black Lives Matter movement who’ve joined the app to “argue with conservatives.” He also told CNBC that same month that he doesn’t want the app to be an echo chamber for conservatives, noting that he doesn’t like either the Democratic or Republican party.

“The whole company was never intended to be a pro-Trump thing,” Matze told CNBC. “A lot of the audience is pro-Trump. I don’t care. I’m not judging them either way.”

If you join, Parler asks for your email and phone number, but it doesn’t ask for your political party. It also doesn’t brand itself as a social network for conservatives. 

But the network boasts a who’s who of conservative voices. Former US Rep. Ron Paul from Texas; Trump’s campaign; Loomer; and Republican US Rep. Devin Nunes from California are on the app. So are conservative commentator Candace Owens and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who was banned from both Facebook and Twitter. Right-wing news sites such as Breitbart News, The Epoch Times and The Daily Caller also have Parler accounts.

When you join the app, Parler recommends several conservative users to follow, but there aren’t any liberal ones — likely because they haven’t joined the app or don’t have a large following.

There are several fake accounts for lawmakers, including one for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Why are more conservatives joining the app?

Conservatives have alleged for years that social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are suppressing their speech. These companies have repeatedly denied doing so, saying they have rules against hate speech and inciting violence that apply to all users. 

The allegations from conservatives have only gotten louder after Twitter and Facebook last week labeled Trump’s tweets that included misinformation about voter fraud. When Trump falsely claimed there that he won re-election over the weekend and there were millions of mail-in ballots sent to people who never requested them, Twitter added a label under his tweet stating that the “claim about election fraud is disputed.” Facebook added a different label below the same remarks by Trump. The notice stated that Biden was the projected winner of the US presidential election. 

There have also been reports that Trump’s campaign is looking to attract more followers to the Parler app, drumming up more publicity for it. And politicians such as Nunes have been urging other users to join. Last year, Nunes sued Twitter and three Twitter users, including one satirically posing as Nunes’ cow, over defamation allegations, but a judge dismissed the social network from the lawsuit.

How is Parler different from Twitter and Facebook?

Parler has fewer rules than Twitter and Facebook over what it allows on its network. Users can report a post for violating Parler’s policies, but the company doesn’t have third-party fact-checkers and doesn’t label misinformation.

Some of the content that’s barred on Parler, though, is allowed on Twitter. For example, Parler’s rules prohibit pornography, but Twitter lets users share “consensually produced adult content” if they mark the media as “sensitive.” Facebook doesn’t allow users to post images of sexual activity.

Parler’s user base of at least 2.8 million people is also a fraction of the number of people on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has more than 2.7 billion monthly active users. Twitter, which stopped reporting the number of monthly users, has 187 million users who log in to the social network daily and are able to see ads. Some people view tweets, including ones embedded in news articles, without logging in to the site.

Parler also has different-colored verification badges. A gold badge, for example, is for public figures with a large following, and a red badge indicates that the account is a real person and not a bot. Parler has rules against spam, which include “repetitive comments and posts which are irrelevant to the conversation.”

Though Parler says it’ll never sell or share user data, its privacy policy states that it may use the data it collects for advertising and marketing. Matze told CNBC in July that the social network plans to make money from ads but that “advertisers will target influencers and those people with a large reach.”

Can users say anything they want on Parler?

No. Parler, like other social networks, has a list of rules that users agree to when they join the site. Parler doesn’t allow terrorists, spam, unsolicited ads, pornography, threats to harm, blackmail, and content that glorifies violence against animals. 

The site doesn’t have rules against hate speech, but it does have policies against obscene content, meaning content that’s sexual in nature, offensive and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

The company’s user agreement also says that the site may remove any content or bar a user’s access “at any time and for any reason or no reason” but that the site “endeavors to allow all free speech that is lawful and does not infringe the legal rights of others.”

Users who joined Parler to mess with fans of Trump took to Twitter to complain they’d been booted from the platform.

In June, Matze said in a post on Parler that you can’t “spam” others in comments with “unrelated comments” that include profanity or threats to kill someone.

“If ever in doubt, ask yourself if you would say it in the streets of New York or national television,” he wrote. 

Users can also mute or block other accounts, like on Twitter and Facebook.

Will Trump abandon Twitter and Facebook for Parler?

It seems highly unlikely. Twitter and Facebook have a much bigger reach than Parler. Trump’s campaign has a Parler account, @TeamTrump, with roughly 2.2 million followers. The campaign has 2.3 million followers on Twitter and 2 million followers on Facebook. 

Trump’s personal account, however, has an even bigger audience on Twitter, with 89 million followers. On Facebook, he has 34 million followers. 

In May, while signing an executive order that would curtail legal protections social media companies get for content posted by users, the president was asked if he’d consider deleting his Twitter account.

Trump said he uses social media to push back against what he described as unfair media coverage and noted that the number of followers he has on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is more than the reach that media companies have. 

“I put something out and the next day or the next hour or the next minute everybody’s reading about it,” he said.

Trump added that he thinks he’d be hurting Twitter “very badly” if he didn’t use the platform anymore and that he’d shut down the company if he found a legal way to do so. 

“We have other sites we could use, I guess,” Trump said.

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