On Jan. 6, the United States Capitol was breached for the first time in over two centuries. People around the world watched as thousands of Trump supporters stormed the building and attempted to halt the certification of the 2020 election by Congress, supporting the notion that the election had been stolen from President Trump. Social media played a large role in helping these domestic terrorists to organize their attack, with one app in particular becoming the go-to platform.
Parler, founded by John Matze in 2018, has recently made headlines with regard to the argument on free speech. The app, which prides itself on its total freedom of speech policy, has, once again, forced a discussion to the extent to which free speech can take place on social media platforms. The app recently exploded in popularity after capitalizing on the building anger of Trump supporters throughout the election.
Parler was founded with the purpose of providing a platform for conservatives to speak freely on political and economic issues. Naturally, this stance caught the eye of more than just conservatives. Racists, Homophobes, QAnon members, anti-Semites, and other extremists along with MAGA (Make American Great Again) supporters flooded the app as other social media platforms began to implement stricter rules regarding disinformation and hate speech. Slowly, the app became the breeding grounds for planning and discussing violent attacks on the left.
In the weeks leading up to the Capitol attack, Parler posed as the command ops for planning the siege. Posts inciting violence began to flood the app as many members started to provide their own suggestions on how to go about the siege. Protestors were asked to be “ARMED WITH RIFLE, HANDGUN, 2 KNIVES AND AS MUCH AMMO AS YOU CAN CARRY.” On the morning before the day of the attack, moderators of the app began promoting threads stating, “GOOD LUCK PATRIOTS, THE EYES OF THE WORLD LOOK UPON YOU NOW!!!” Specific individuals, such as President-elect Joe Biden, were called out by members of Parler who threatened to pursue leaders on the left. Senator Ilhan Omar and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi were subjects of hateful and xenophobic comments.
On the day of the Capitol attack, Parler became the grounds for posting the success story of the united MAGA, QAnon and Proud Boys movement. Parler was flooded with images and videos of the attack, mostly by people who documented their own involvement on their phones. Posts inciting violence continued to circulate throughout the app even after the mob had made its way inside the building. Parler, a simple social media platform, had bred what became an unprecedented domestic terrorism event.
Following the attack on the Capitol, Google and Apple removed the app from their individual platforms and Amazon no longer hosts Parler on its servers. While an initial request was made that harsher moderation be added to the app, Parler failed to comply with the request which resulted in the total removal of the app on Jan. 9. Meanwhile, Matze continues to support his total freedom of speech policy.
According to The New York Times, “Parler has entered into business with DDoS-Guard, a Russian firm that routes internet traffic and protects websites from cyberattacks.” Now, visitors to Parler.com see a basic webpage “with a promise from Parler’s chief executive, John Matze, that ‘our return is inevitable.’”
Freedom of Speech is a right given to all Americans through the First Amendment. That right is retracted the moment a person incites violence or panic in a crowd. However, in this day and age where technology is widespread and has rapidly advanced, it has become hard to keep track of the individuals who abuse their First Amendment right with the goal of spreading disinformation. There is also the issue of the increase of AI generated messages and advertising, as well as the increasing spam of bots on social media platforms.
Many oppose the regulation of social media platforms by the government. In the past, it has been the role of social media platforms and companies to hold, not only each other, but themselves accountable for the information being spread on their platforms. According to The Atlantic, “over the past few years, social-media companies have expended considerable effort developing internal policies that they claim are designed to ensure that ‘all people can participate in the public conversation [on the platforms] freely and safely.'” Debate continues as to whether regulation by private companies as it is currently practiced will be sufficient.