Parler falls short on free-speech promises
In four days, a once-obscure social network that's been around since 2018 saw its user base swell by 4.5 million people, claimed the top spot on smartphone app download charts and trolled Twitter, the platform it hopes to supplant, by becoming a trending topic on the platform.
Bristling over fact checks and warning labels applied to voter-fraud claims on Facebook and Twitter, conservatives are flocking to Parler, an alternative that promises free-flowing dialogue and political neutrality in content moderation. Its post-Election Day success is building even more buzz as the news spreads from talk radio to The New York Times.
"Facebook and Twitter's suppression of election information was a catalyst, causing many people to lose their trust. But the movement away from these platforms was already well underway," CEO John Matze wrote in an open letter to Parler users.
Twitter labeled dozens of President Donald Trump's tweets with the message "This claim about election fraud is disputed." Trump supporters say Twitter moderators are betraying their political bias.
Facebook removed a group called "Stop the Steal," which alleges Democrats committed voter fraud to benefit President-elect Joe Biden. Parler rolled out the red carpet, applying a "verified" badge to the group's profile picture.
Co-owned by right-wing commentator Dan Bongino and hyped by Fox News host Sean Hannity, Parler isn't shy about courting conservatives. Yet it styles itself as a nonpartisan platform that's fighting censorship and cancel culture by upholding high-minded ideals about free speech.
"While the First Amendment does not apply to private companies such as Parler, our mission is to create a social platform in the spirit of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," the website's community guidelines state.
For a journalist whose car sports the vanity plate 1STAMDMT, that premise was too intriguing to pass up. So I created a Parler account -- @coreywrites -- to test the waters.
Like Twitter, there's a suggestion to "personalize your experience" by selecting users to follow from a pre-populated list. Unlike Twitter, every account belonged to a right-wing personality or company, from Phil Robertson and Sen. Ted Cruz to PragerU and American Greatness.
News outlets including the Washington Post, NBC, CNN and Newsweek are on Parler, along with government agencies such as the Los Angeles Police Department. There are plenty of parody accounts lampooning everyone from progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to Republicans such as Sen. Mitt Romney and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.