SEATTLE — In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Amazon seemed excited by Parler’s growth and discussed expanding its business relationship with the conservative Twitter competitor, Parler said Wednesday.
In a court filing, Parler said that communication with Amazon continued as Parler prepared for the possibility that President Donald Trump could join the social network, bringing millions of new users with him.
The claims complicate Amazon’s portrayal of the events leading up to the Seattle tech giant’s suspension of Parler’s cloud service account Sunday. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud-computing arm, booted Parler off its servers after reports that some of the right-leaning platform’s 15 million users were advocating and glorifying violence against Trump opponents. Parler users were also among the mob storming the Capitol, Gizmodo reported.
In its reply Wednesday, Parler said Amazon had whitewashed that timeline.
Amazon had been familiar with Parler’s content-moderation systems, which rely primarily on volunteers to flag abusive content after it had been posted, since 2018, Parler CEO John Matze said in a declaration filed Wednesday. And Amazon was aware as early as October that Trump was considering moving to Parler, under the pseudonym “Person X,” the declaration said.
Still, through December, Amazon representatives seemed excited about Parler’s growth, Parler’s attorney wrote in the social network’s filing Wednesday. In November and December, AWS and Parler discussed the possibility of Parler upgrading its account to use more expensive, proprietary AWS software, the filing said.
And while Amazon had sporadically flagged Parler posts for removal in November and December, AWS didn’t tell Parler that its “system of handling this material was inadequate or that Parler was in breach of its contract” until after the Jan. 6 riot, when pro-Trump mobs breached the Capitol building, according to the new filing from Parler.
As late as mid-December, Amazon told Parler that the two companies were “definitely in this journey” together to help Parler address concerns about harmful and violent posts, Parler said in its filing. The day of the riot, Amazon again questioned Parler about its content-moderation practices, but after receiving Parler’s reply told the social network it should consider the matter “resolved,” according to Parler’s filing.
Two days later, Amazon executives notified Parler that they would suspend Parler’s account because of a “steady increase” in violent content on the network, in violation of Amazon’s terms of service.
In its filing Wednesday, Parler suggests Amazon’s about-face could have been due to concerns over how its relationship with Parler would be perceived publicly. Hours before Amazon told Parler on Friday its account would be suspended, a group of Amazon tech workers had received significant media attention for calling on their employer to dump Parler.
Parler said texts exchanged between an AWS representative and Matze in the days immediately after the Capitol riot further bolstered its claim that AWS was not worried about violent content on Parler until it faced pressure from employees.
In those texts, “AWS expressed no concerns with Parler’s content moderation,” Parler said in its filing. “But this same AWS representative repeatedly asked whether the President had joined or would join Parler now that he was blocked by Twitter and Facebook.”
Parler also contended Amazon dismantled its account in order to help Twitter, soon to be a major AWS client. Two AWS executives called that logic bogus in declarations filed Tuesday. Twitter has not yet migrated to AWS and the company does not know when it plans to do so, said the executives, whose names Amazon redacted after receiving “significant and repeated threats of physical violence against AWS, its facilities and its employees” when it suspended Parler, according to an Amazon motion to seal the declarations.
When asked Wednesday about Parler’s claims, an Amazon spokesperson declined to comment and pointed to Amazon’s previous filings in the case.
The company has said that its “decision to suspend Parler is about nothing more than Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability to remove from the servers of AWS content that threatens the public safety, such as by inciting and planning the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens.”
In recent days, Parler has taken at least one step toward a reboot, transferring its domain name to Sammamish-based web host Epik, which also hosts neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer and conspiracy theory channel InfoWars — and, as of Wednesday, the website of right-wing paramilitary group Oath Keepers, after group leaders said its previous web host kicked them offline, BuzzFeed reported.
Epik, though, “will not be providing the web-hosting services that are essential for Parler to function as a company,” Matze said in his Wednesday declaration.
Many of Parler’s vendors followed Amazon’s lead in terminating their relationships with Parler, including American Express, workplace messaging app Slack, payment processor Stripe and Parler’s public relations firm. Depending on how Parler chooses to rebuild its digital infrastructure, it could be offline up to a year, experts have said.
“My company is now a social network without a network,” Matze said in his Wednesday declaration.©2021 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.