Parler Is Coming Back Online, But Its Users Have Already Moved On

The social media platform was removed from servers after the Capitol insurrection last month.
February 16, 2021, 1:10pm
In this photo illustration a Parler App and logo is seen displayed on a smartphone and in the background. The 'free speech' social media platform, Parler, a hit with Trump supporters and an alternative to Twitter, stops working after losing support from A
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A month after it was forced offline for its role as an organizing tool in the Capitol riots, Parler sputtered back to life on Monday with a new logo and a new CEO.

But within hours, the site was once again inaccessible to almost everyone, and its target audience of Trump supporters and QAnon followers appeared to have little appetite for returning to the controversial platform. In the weeks when Parler was offline, many moved to Telegram, Gab, MeWe, and other fringe platforms. 

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“Fuck Parler” was a common refrain on Patriots.win, a rabidly pro-Trump forum formerly known as TheDonald. Meanwhile, over on GreatAwakening.win, a QAnon message board, one user responded to the news that Parler was back online saying simply: “Parler is done, bro.”

Users on both sites suggested that Parler was back online as an “NSA honeypot” designed to allow the government to capture information about right-wing groups — though there’s obviously no evidence to suggest this is true. 

On Telegram, an encrypted-messaging app that has seen a massive influx of users in the wake of Parler’s temporary demise, members of QAnon channels said they had no interest in returning to Parler, and that they preferred their new home.

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Meanwhile, on Gab, a free-speech-focused social network that has become a haven for racists and QAnon supporters, founder Andrew Torba pointed out that Parler may soon be offline again, given that its new hosting provider, the LA-based company SkySilk, has a policy that bans “hateful material” from its network. Torba wasted little time attacking Parler through Gab in a series of now-deleted tweets:

“The Mercers, who own Parler, are billionaire oligarchs that want your data to serve their own interests,” Torba tweeted. “I'm a middle-class guy who wants to defend your fundamental human rights online. There's a big difference.”

Of course, Torba has some skin in the game, given that Gab has seen a massive spike in users since Parler’s demise.

Parler was launched in 2018, but it exploded in popularity in the final months of 2020 and the early days of 2021. That’s when it became known as a home for an assortment of far-right extremists, QAnon followers, and conservative talking heads who’d either been kicked off mainstream social media platforms or left because of a perceived anti-conservative bias on Twitter or Facebook.

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Of course, no such bias exists. Dan Bongino, the far-right commentator who announced last summer he had bought an “ownership stake” in Parler, regularly has among the most engaged posts on Facebook—where he still writes multiple times a day despite his apparent disdain for the platform.

But Parler, whose user interface mimics Twitter’s, tapped into a desire for a new online space for people who felt persecuted by Silicon Valley. At one point in early 2021, the company claimed to have close to 20 million users.

But then it all came crashing down.

In the wake of the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, Parler was implicated in helping to organize the violence and failing to properly moderate the dangerous rhetoric that pervaded the platform in the days and weeks leading up to the insurrection.

In quick succession, Parler’s app was dropped by Apple and Google, and Amazon pulled the plug on hosting the site on Jan. 11, taking it offline immediately.

Parler was only dark for a month, but a lot has happened in that time.

Earlier this month, the company fired its co-founder and CEO, John Matze, after he reportedly was willing to consider some form of algorithmic content moderation in order to get Parler back in app stores again.

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An investigation also revealed that Parler had been in discussions with the Trump Organization about selling a share of the company in return for former President Donald Trump signing up and posting exclusively on the platform — but the negotiations fell through.

Parler also played a central role in helping identify many of those who took part in the Capitol riots, after users posted videos to the platforms from inside and around the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Some of those videos were used during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump last week.

On Monday after the site went live again, the new CEO sought to reassure users that Parler was back for good.

“We’re thrilled to welcome everyone back,” interim CEO Mark Meckler said in a statement. “Parler is being run by an experienced team and is here to stay.” Meckler also founded the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing political group, and now runs an organization dedicated to rewriting the constitution to radically reduce the power of the federal government.

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But it’s unclear if Parler really is here to stay. Without distribution on Apple and Google platforms, it will struggle to attain the type of scale it needs to make money for investors, like the Mercer family, previously known for backing Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart.

And because Parler doesn’t control its own servers, it doesn’t ultimately control its own future. It relies wholly on the servers provided by SkySilk.

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The CEO of SkySilk, Kevin Matossian, said in a statement on Monday night that his company stands for freedom of speech and protecting the rights afforded under the first amendment. But its loyalty to Parler may be tested soon, as there are already calls on social media for SkySilk’s other customers to cut ties with the company.

For all the bluster of influential figures like Bongino and far-right characters like him, they continue to use mainstream social networks. Even when Parler was online, they simply mirrored their posts on other platforms rather than engaging in any meaningful way.

In short, Parler’s brief period in the spotlight may already be over.