Posted on May 30, 2019

Amid Censorship Fears, Trump Campaign ‘Checking Out’ Alternative Social Network

Ben Schreckinger, Politico, May 28, 2019

They’ve been banned from Facebook, purged from Twitter and blocked from Instagram. Some of them have been barred from setting foot on the continent of Australia. But you can still find them all on the fledgling social media network Parler.

The Twitter-like platform was initially hatched last year as a tool for digital news outlets to claw revenue back from big social networks like Facebook. But as those platforms purge some of the internet’s most inflammatory supporters of President Donald Trump over posts deemed dangerous or offensive, Parler has carved out a niche among these banned right-wing influencers — like Gavin McInnes, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos.

As conservative distrust of social media giants rises to the top of Washington’s political agenda, Parler has also gained the notice of some bona fide Republican leaders: Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and Utah Sen. Mike Lee both began posting on the site this month.

According to one person close to Trump’s campaign, the president’s team is considering setting him up with an account on the site. A senior Trump campaign official said that there was no imminent plan to have the president join the platform, but that Parscale is scouting Parler. {snip}


[Candace] Owens — who recently departed the conservative youth group Turning Point USA — introduced Parler to the pro-Trump grassroots with a December tweet that began, “Wow. Everyone just found out about the new Twitter. Just want to say that I WAS THE FIRST CONSERVATIVE TO JOIN.” {snip}

Parler’s founder, John Matze, said the Owens tweet swamped his site with 40,000 new users, causing its servers to malfunction. {snip}

Parler is the french word for “Speak,” and is pronounced “par-lay.” But as its user base has grown, Matze has seen that Americans tend to pronounce the word phonetically, as in “parlor,” evoking the room in a house where friends might sit down to chat.


{snip} Matze, who leans libertarian in his personal views, had not set out to cater to Trump supporters. Originally, he had conceived of Parler as a commenting plugin with social features that media outlets could integrate into their websites as a way to capture more engagement with their content themselves — rather than letting the bulk of engagement and ad dollars flow to established social media platforms.

He said he expected left-leaning digital publishers to become core partners. But as large social media platforms have responded to calls to curb extremism on their sites with bans of several far-right figures and other, more opaque measures like “shadow banning,” conservative users have become increasingly distrustful of the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

This has created an unexpected opening for Parler with pro-Trump users, though it is still far from challenging large social networks. {snip}

Matze said the site had about 100,000 users in total. Twitter, by comparison, claims 326 million.

Activity on the site appears to be devoted mostly to a small universe of Trump-friendly discussions. On a recent Tuesday, trending topics on the site included “#IslamExposed,” “#IllegalImmigrants,” “#BuildThatWall” and “#WomenForTrump.” {snip}

{snip} Will Chamberlain, who recently relaunched the conservative publication Human Events with a focus on social media censorship, said that though he plans to post his outlet’s content to Parler, he does not expect it to displace the reigning platform for news. “I think Twitter has a natural monopoly,” he said. “I think there are profound network effects.”

And even by the standards of free speech Twitter alternatives, Parler is small. Another platform, Gab, founded in 2016, claims a million users. “Parler is a ghost town,” said Gab’s founder Andrew Torba.

Like Parler, Gab takes a laissez-faire approach to offensive speech and has been a magnet for those banned from other platforms. Its users include white nationalist Richard Spencer and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The perpetrator of a 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue was also a Gab user. {snip} Gab’s popularity with the virulently racist alt-right has tainted Gab’s brand, stymying its prospects for growth into a mainstream platform even as it amassed a large user base.

While Parler’s founder does not want to be limited to a far-right user base, much of the content posted on Parler falls into categories deemed offensive and discouraged by the large platforms — such as anti-Islam and anti-feminist sentiment. {snip}

Matze said he still hopes to attract users of all political persuasions. “We’re pretty much bipartisan from our standpoint,” he said. “I really don’t want to take a stance at all on the political side of things. However it seems extremely relevant right now for conservatives at least to build a platform where they can build trust. They feel extremely abused by social media.”

Matze said he plans to bypass these issues by using the FCC’s definition of obscenity to determine what posts cross the line, and to leave up anything that does not meet that threshold, while giving users tools to personally filter out content they do not want to see.


Despite this heavy ad spending, distrust of large social media platforms has loomed large in the strategic thinking of Trump’s team. In October, POLITICO reported that Trump’s 2020 campaign was investing heavily in efforts to reach supporters directly, such as via text message, in order to bypass the platforms.


While in town, Matze also met with Lee, the libertarian-minded senator, and sold him on Parler’s free speech ethos.


Matze said he hopes the site will foster civil discussion, and that he has seen users wish each other good night at the end of evenings of heated debate. That civility though, may be a function of the fact that most of the platform’s heavy users share a broadly similar worldview. {snip}

Michael Morrison, a conservative activist who operated a Twitter parody account of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez until being banned from that platform, said many right-leaning social media figures are treating Parler as a backup. They are attracting modest followings on the platform in case they are banned from the larger social networks.