Parler goes dark and sues Amazon as Trump seeks a post-Twitter megaphone
President Trump has been kicked off of most mainstream social media platforms following his supporters’ siege on the U.S. Capitol. It remains to be seen how fast or where — if anywhere — on the internet he will be able to reach his followers.
The far-right-friendly Parler had been the leading candidate, at least until Google and Apple removed it from their app stores and Amazon booted Parler off its web hosting service Monday just after midnight. Parler responded by suing Amazon, seeking reinstatement.
Many of President Trump’s most extreme followers are migrating to alternative social platforms. With Trump now permanently banned from Twitter, he may follow them.
Parler’s chief executive said before the lawsuit was filed that Amazon’s move could knock his platform offline for a week, though that might prove optimistic. And even if Parler finds a friendlier web-hosting service, without a smartphone app, it’s hard to imagine Parler gaining mainstream success.
The 2-year-old magnet for the far right claims more than 12 million users, though mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower puts the number at 10 million worldwide, with 8 million in the U.S. That’s a small fraction of the 89 million followers Trump had on Twitter.
Parler’s antitrust lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle, seeks an order forcing Amazon Web Services to maintain its account. It says Amazon is required to provide 30 days’ notice before terminating its service.
Amazon Web Services, known as AWS, is by far the largest cloud-computing provider, and its on-demand software services are the backbone for many of the most popular internet services.
Shutting down service to Parler “is the equivalent of pulling the plug on a hospital patient on life support,” Parler said. “It will kill Parler’s business — at the very time it is set to skyrocket.”
Before suspending services, AWS reminded Parler in a letter, first reported by Buzzfeed, that it had informed Parler in the last few weeks of 98 examples of posts “that clearly encourage and incite violence” and said the platform “poses a very real risk to public safety.”
An AWS spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit. Amazon said it couldn’t provide services to “a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence.”
However, “Friday night one of the top trending tweets on Twitter was ‘Hang Mike Pence,’” Parler said in its complaint, yet AWS “has no plans nor has it made any threats to suspend Twitter’s account. AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus. It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.”
Parler might be attractive to Trump since it’s where his sons Eric and Don Jr. are already active. Parler hit headwinds, though, on Friday as Google yanked its smartphone app from its app store for allowing postings that seek “to incite ongoing violence in the U.S.” Apple followed suit on Saturday evening after giving Parler 24 hours to address complaints it was being used to “plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.” Public safety issues will need to be resolved before it is restored, Apple said.
A message seeking comment from Parler was sent Sunday, asking whether the company plans to change its policies and enforcement around these issues.
Parler CEO John Matze decried the tech giants’ actions, calling them a coordinated attack to kill competition in the marketplace. “We were too successful too fast,” he said in a Saturday night post, saying it was possible Parler would be unavailable for up to a week “as we rebuild from scratch.”
“Every vendor, from text message services, to email providers, to our lawyers all ditched us too on the same day,” Matze said Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” He said that while his company is trying to get back online as quickly as possible, it’s “having a lot of trouble, because every vendor we talk to says they won’t work with us, because, if Apple doesn’t approve and Google doesn’t approve, they won’t.”
Losing access to the app stores of Google and Apple — whose operating systems power hundreds of millions of smartphones — severely limits Parler’s reach, though it had continued to be accessible via web browser. Losing Amazon Web Services means Parler needs to scramble to find another web host, in addition to the re-engineering.
Trump may also launch his own platform. But that won’t happen overnight, and free speech experts anticipate growing pressure on all social media platforms to curb incendiary speech as Americans take stock of Wednesday’s violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol by a Trump-incited mob.
While initially arguing their need to be neutral on speech, Twitter and Facebook gradually yielded to public pressure drawing the line especially when the so-called Plandemic video emerged early in the COVID-19 pandemic urging people not to wear masks, noted civic media professor Ethan Zuckerman of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
President Trump enters the last days of his term facing a potential second impeachment and calls for his resignation after the Capitol siege.
Zuckerman expects the Trump de-platforming may spur important online shifts. First, there may be an accelerated splintering of the social media world along ideological lines.
“Trump will pull a lot of audience wherever he goes,” he said. That could mean more platforms with smaller, more ideologically isolated audiences.
On the first full day of trading since kicking Trump off of its platform, Twitter Inc. stock tumbled more than 10% at the opening bell Monday, then recovered part of that lost ground as the morning went on. Facebook and other tech companies that have put restrictions in place on conservative platforms fell as well amid a broader market selloff.
The Associated Press and Bloomberg were used in compiling this report.