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Parler ‘uncensored’ app adds users, tops US charts after election

What’s happening? Social media platform Parler topped the US download chart following Donald Trump’s defeat in the US presidential election. Promoting itself as a “free speech” app, Parler added thousands of users per minute on 8 November, according to its owner, Dan Bongino, causing technical problems. Founder John Matze said the app added two million new users in a day. Trump supporters and right-wing conservatives have flocked to the app after complaining of censorship by Facebook and Twitter. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has 2.6 million followers on the platform.

Why does this matter? The rise of Parler is a key symptom of a larger social trend unfolding in tandem with the growing role of populism in politics over the last few years.

As we mentioned last week, while President Donald Trump may have lost the US election, he still garnered more than 70 million votes – showing he is as popular as ever with his base. Furthermore, commentators have noted how the socioeconomic conditions that led to populism’s rise globally haven’t evaporated – in many ways they may even have been amplified by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mass exodus of this group from “mainstream” social networks to an alternative platform typically associated with far right-wing ideology is cause for concern. As we’ve seen with other examples this year, platforms allowing misinformation to go unchecked in the name of free speech have the potential to support the distribution and facilitation of violent extremist content, dangerous conspiracy theories and, in some cases, terrorist networks.

While we should note that Parler (under its current user regulations) bans any threats of violence, pornography, and support for terrorism, its low levels of content moderation mean it may struggle to enforce such bans if user rhetoric ever morphed into something more sinister.

It’s important to also flag that alongside Parler’s rising user base, platforms such as Gab and MeWe are also growing in the US, which are notably even more lax in regard to content that users are allowed to post.

Further thought from Curation – Now that Parler is gaining popularity, will it be forced to withstand the same regulatory scrutiny as Big Tech platforms? Under a Biden-led government, it’s unlikely that a platform like Parler would be able to get away with less regulatory pressure than Facebook and Twitter are currently facing.

How will the platform – and its users – respond if it is forced to take more responsibility for any false or vitriolic content its users decide to post? How far into the world of alternative media will individuals go to escape the “censorship” they feel so targeted by? It is a relatively small jump from Parler to more private platforms and encrypted chat apps that host networks for extremist views and harmful conspiratorial content.

Recommended reading:

The continued rise of nationalism and populism, Curation

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Sara Trett

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