Amazon, Apple and Google cut off Parler, an app that drew Trump supporters
By Jack Nicas and Davey Alba
Parler, a social network that pitches itself as a “free speech” alternative to Twitter and Facebook, is suffering from whiplash.
Over the past several months, Parler has become one of the fastest-growing apps in the United States. Millions of President Donald Trump’s supporters have flocked to it as Facebook and Twitter increasingly cracked down on posts that spread misinformation and incited violence, including muzzling Trump by removing his accounts this past week. By Saturday morning, Apple listed Parler as the No. 1 free app for its iPhones.
But, by Saturday night, Parler was fighting for its life.
First, Apple and Google removed the app from their app stores because they said it had not sufficiently policed its users’ posts, allowing too many that encouraged violence and crime. Then, late Saturday, Amazon told Parler it would boot the company from its web-hosting service Sunday night because of repeated violations of Amazon’s rules.
Amazon’s move meant that Parler’s entire platform would soon go offline unless it was able to find a new hosting service Sunday.
“Big tech really wants to kill competition,” John Matze, Parler’s chief executive, said in a text message. “And I have a lot of work to do in the next 24 hours to make sure everyone’s data is not permanently deleted off the internet.”
A day earlier, Parler appeared poised to capitalize on growing anger at Silicon Valley in conservative circles and was even a logical choice to become Trump’s next megaphone after he was kicked off Twitter. Now its future is looking bleak.
In a letter to Parler on Saturday, Amazon said that it had sent the company 98 examples of posts on its site that encouraged violence and that many remained active. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with” Amazon’s rules, the company said in the letter. Amazon “provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we continue to respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow on its site. However, we cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others.”
On Friday, Apple gave Parler 24 hours to clean up its app or face removal from its App Store.
Parler appeared to take down some posts over that period, but Saturday, Apple told the company its measures were inadequate. “We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity,” Apple said in a statement.
“This is very huge,” Amy Peikoff, Parler’s policy chief, told Fox News after Apple gave its warning Friday. Without access to the App Store, she said, “we’re toast.”
Several Parler executives accused the tech companies’ moves as being politically motivated and anticompetitive.
Matze pointed to the fact that Twitter had recently promoted the phrase “Hang Mike Pence” as a trending topic. (The majority of the discussion on Twitter was about rioters chanting the phrase about the vice president Wednesday.) “I have seen no evidence Apple is going after them,” Matze said. “This would appear to be an unfair double standard as every other social media site has the same issues, arguably on a worse scale.”
The actions against Parler were part of a wider crackdown by tech companies on Trump and some of his most extreme supporters after Wednesday’s deadly riot in Washington. But unlike Twitter and Facebook, which make decisions about the content that appears on their own sites, Amazon, Apple and Google weighed in on how another company was operating.
BuzzFeed News first reported Amazon’s decision to pull its support for Parler.
If Parler is able to find a provider and resume its service, it will still have an uphill journey to find new users without a place in the major app stores. Apple’s decision blocks iPhone owners from downloading the Parler app. People who already have the app will still be able to use it — if it comes back online — but their versions of the app will soon become obsolete as Apple updates the iPhone software.
Google cut Parler out of its flagship Android app store, but it also allows apps to be downloaded from elsewhere, meaning Android users would still be able to find the Parler app, just with a bit more work. If Parler finds a new web-hosting provider, its website would also be available via web browsers on phones and computers.
After Apple had given the company 24 hours to improve its moderation to avoid removal from the App Store, it appeared that Parler had tried to remove some posts that seemed to call for violence.
For instance, L. Lin Wood, a lawyer who had sued to overturn Trump’s election loss, posted on Parler on Thursday morning, “Get the firing squad ready. Pence goes FIRST.” The post was viewed at least 788,000 times, according to a screenshot on the Internet Archive. By Saturday morning, the post had been removed.
In a text message, Matze said the post had been removed “in compliance with Parler’s terms of service and rules against incitement of violence.”
In a notice to Parler on Saturday, Apple said that it had “continued to find direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action” on the app. Apple told the company its app would not be allowed on the App Store until “you have demonstrated your ability to effectively moderate and filter the dangerous and harmful content on your service.”
In an interview, Jeffrey Wernick, Parler’s chief operating officer, blamed “a cancel culture” at the tech companies for his company’s dimming prospects. He said he would advise other platforms not to try to compete on Apple’s App Store. “Because if you raise money and get investors and end up like Parler, what’s the point?” he said.