Parler, a social media website similar to Twitter, has been offline since last Sunday following widespread condemnation of its role in the Capitol insurrection last Wednesday. Launched in 2018, the website gained traction in 2020 as many Republicans, including congresspeople, grew to appreciate its strong belief of free speech. While Twitter’s rules on overt bigotry and promoting misinformation have gradually grown more extensive, Parler compares itself to a town square, where the First Amendment protects all but clear threats and incitements to violence. Their rules do still outlaw defamation, supporting terrorist groups, and at one point banned pornography of any kind. The user agreement also contains a general clause stating, “Parler is free to remove content and terminate your access to the Services even where the Guidelines have been followed.” Nonetheless, with the endorsement of conservatives frustrated by Twitter’s policies like Ted Cruz(R-Tx) and Rand Paul(R-Ky), its membership swelled from one million at the beginning of the year to 15 million recently.
Last week, however, Parler’s popularity with conservatives seeking to spread conspiracy theories about the presidential election backfired. In the aftermath of the riot in Washington, D.C. on January 6, where supporters of the president broke into the Capitol Building to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, screenshots of violent content on Parler were widely circulated. The messages threatened a wide array of public figures, from Jack Dorsey to Stacey Abrams to then Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and many called for a civil war, or the murder of African Americans or Antifa activists in general. Parler was removed shortly afterwards from both the Apple and Android app stores, and on January 9, Amazon announced it would stop Parler from using Amazon Web Services (AWS) at midnight the following Monday, as the site had become “a very real risk to public safety.”
Shortly after the website went offline, Parler sued Amazon for a breach of contract and violation of antitrust law. The suit, filed in the federal district court in Seattle, claimed that Amazon took down Parler to eliminate a competitor to Twitter. However, Parler’s peak of 15 million accounts pales in comparison to the 330 million monthly active users on Twitter, and while its popularity among American conservatives has soared, Parler also lacks Twitter’s breadth of subject matter and ideology. Many leftists say their accounts were banned almost immediately for being contrarian, according to the Independent and Newsweek.
Amazon’s response, filed January 12, cites many violent Parler posts, arguing that “there is no legal basis in AWS’s customer agreements or otherwise to compel AWS to host content of this nature.” In fact, the agreement Parler signed, “requires Parler to ‘immediately suspend access’ to content that it learns violates its obligations under the Agreement.” These obligations include removing “content that ‘violate[s] the rights of others, or that may be harmful to others.’”
As the legal fight drags on, there is no clear indication of when Parler may return to the web. Many other companies including American Express and Slack have also ended service to Parler recently, and although the domain name was transferred to Epik, a host of many far-right websites including The Daily Stormer and InfoWars, Parler CEO John Matze Jr. said it “will not be providing the web-hosting services that are essential for Parler to function as a company,” and that the site is for now “a social network without a network.”