Understanding the Ban on Parler

The social media platform Parler launched in 2018 as an alternative to Twitter, aimed mostly at users who believe that other social media outlets censor conservatives. Founder John Matze promised that the site would be dedicated to free speech, and its community guidelines state that “our mission is to create a social platform in the spirit of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” 

The “spirit of the First Amendment” phrasing is a dig at Twitter, which has long banned users for content that violates its terms of service. In 2016, Twitter banned Milo Yiannopoulos for repeated violations, including racist posts directed at comedian Leslie Jones. In 2018, the site banned “proud Islamophobe” Laura Loomer. And, of course, President Donald Trump lost his Twitter account on Friday night. 

Now, after users used the platform to incite violence leading up to and during the storming of the Capitol and advanced unhinged claims about covert operations to keep Trump in the White House, Parler finds itself homeless. Warnings to the company to implement policies to better moderate its own content were largely ignored. Parler removed a post last week from Lin Wood, the pro-Trump lawyer and conspiracy theorist, after Wood called for the execution of Vice President Mike Pence. “Get the firing squads ready. Pence goes FIRST,” Wood posted. It was too late. On Friday Google removed its app from the Google Play store; Apple followed suit the next day. Users could still access Parler via a web browser, but just before midnight Sunday, Amazon Web Services cut off the site’s access to its servers.

“Across the internet stack, from the edge providers like Twitter, Facebook, Parler, down to infrastructural levels, app stores, web services, domain name services, everyone likes to govern their services as they see fit,” says Will Duffield, a policy analyst in the Cato Institute’s Center for Representative Government, where he studies speech and internet governance.  “These terms of services are pretty broadly drawn to potentially exclude future misbehavior. This is right in Parler’s terms of service as well, and probably what, despite their commitment to free speech or a First Amendment inspired standard, and what they would turn to if Lin Wood complained about their removal of his account the other night.”

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