Day 6

What is Parler, the social network courting right-leaning users?

Conservative-leaning social media users have turned to the app in recent weeks over claims that traditional networks have censored right-wing voices and opinions.

Fox News host Sean Hannity has encouraged users to leave Twitter for the fledgling social network

Parler bills itself as a social network for free speech. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

Parler, the social media network that bills itself as a bastion for free speech, shot to the top of app store rankings this week.

Conservative-leaning social media users have turned to the Twitter-like app in recent weeks over claims that traditional networks have censored right-wing voices and opinions.

Both Facebook and Twitter have made increasingly forceful attempts to combat misinformation related to this month's U.S. presidential election by flagging, and sometimes hiding, inaccurate and misleading content.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of Twitter, tweeting on Nov. 6 that the platform was "out of control." Trump has been a frequent target of the company's fact-checking efforts for months.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Parler, on the other hand, aims to be a platform without moderation of potentially controversial content.

According to reports, the service has nearly doubled its user base to 8 million since the election.

It's been championed by right-wing politicians and media personalities, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Mark Levin and Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon, who are a significant draw for users.

What is Parler?

Calling itself "the world's town square," Parler was launched in 2018 by tech entrepreneurs John Matze and Jared Thomson. According to the service's community guidelines, only criminal activity and spam are prohibited on the app and content moderation is kept to a minimum.

"Parler is the latest in a series of social networking platforms that is being sold to a particular community or a particular set of individuals who are probably a bit frustrated at how the dominant player in that space ... is treating users," said Greg Elmer, a communication professor at Ryerson University.

Influential conservative pundit Dan Bongino is also an investor in the company, and BBC News disinformation reporter Shayan Sardarizadeh says that has encouraged some users to join.

"Within conservative circles, the idea is we won't be restricted and we won't be labelled, or we won't be removed, on a platform that one of our friends — somebody who is one of the major figures of the conservative movement in America — is one of the main [owners]," he told Day 6 host Brent Bambury. 

Sardarizadeh adds that far-right groups like the Proud Boys, who have been banned from other platforms, and the conspiracy theory QAnon, have found homes on Parler.

Why are conservative social media users flocking to it?

Earlier this month, Fox News host Sean Hannity encouraged conservative Twitter users to jump ship for Parler.

"When users talk about why they are going there, they're claiming that they didn't get to say what they wanted to say without repercussion on Twitter or Facebook," said Libby Hemphill, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information.

Elmer says that discontent over California-based tech companies taking public stances on social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBT rights, has angered Republicans and conservative users.

"There are exceptions, but by and large, many of the CEOs have espoused a small-L liberal philosophy," he told Day 6.

Social media companies watching for election misinformation

2 years ago
Duration 3:09
Facebook and Twitter are tracking attempts to spread misinformation about the U.S. election, including monitoring the accounts of candidates and influential users. Both companies have added labels to Donald Trump's posts about mail-in voting. 

Where do they draw the line?

As described in a document titled Elaboration on Guidelines, Parler's rules prohibit criminal behaviour including threats of violence, terrorism and the sexualization of minors, among others. 

But when it comes to the topic of defamation, Parler says that they will leave it up to courts to determine what is defamatory rather than moderating posts as Twitter might, Hemphill said.

"Parler has put up pretty significant barriers to addressing wrongful use of the service, or [what's] harmful to other people."

Because of the company's "pretty thin and not terribly fully articulated" terms of use, Elmer says the company could open themselves up to litigation and, critically, questions from investors around legal liability for users' content.

"It's principally a legal and a financial matter rather than a regulatory or political one, at least on the level of ... what are the real rubber hit the road impediments or challenges to starting a platform?" he said.

Will it succeed?

Although Parler has seen significant growth recently, experts are skeptical that users will completely ditch mainstream platforms in its favour.

So far, the app has seemed to have attracted like-minded users, creating an echo chamber of sorts.

"One of the things that we're seeing is that when people leave the mainstream platforms, there aren't as many folks to fight with," said Hemphill. 

"So then they're just in their echo chambers ... but if your point was to own [humiliate] the liberals or to show how right you are, if nobody else is disagreeing with you, then it's not going to be that useful."

As a result, Sardarizadeh says that users haven't been keen to stick around.

"That's one of the reasons, I think, that many of the influential figures who have been banned from Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and YouTube have repeatedly attempted to return to those platforms," he said.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Pedro Sanchez.

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