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I joined Parler, the right-wing echo chamber’s new favorite alt-Twitter

The “free speech” social network is a safe space to share memes and conspiracies, bash the libs and other targets, and complain about Jack Dorsey.

I joined Parler, the right-wing echo chamber’s new favorite alt-Twitter
[Source illustration: SugarandSkullDesigns”/Pixabay]

Running an alternative social network is no easy feat in a world dominated by Facebook and Twitter. People just don’t see the benefit of going off to some new site where their friends aren’t. But for some folks, a new “non-biased free speech” site called Parler offers a good reason for switching—a place that’s friendlier to your politics if you’re a right-winger. Enough people are intrigued that it’s now the most popular News app on the App Store.

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Parler has found itself in the right place and the right time, as many right-wingers are joining the site after defecting—or occasionally being ejected—from Twitter. The site, which was created in 2018 by a couple of Henderson, Nevada-based software engineers, John Matze and Jared Thomson, saw its membership surge by half a million members to 1.5 million daily active users within the past week. Much of the growth came after Twitter labeled a video shared by Trump to be “manipulated media.” It turned out that the video ripped off some copyrighted footage, and its maker, the hate meme artist Carpe Donktum, had his account permanently suspended by Twitter. He then moved over to Parler.

And more may go over to Parler in the coming days as the #Twexit (Twitter exit) viral campaign picks up steam on Twitter and elsewhere.

I saw people griping that they’d spent years growing a Twitter following only to be forced to leave after their accounts were suspended.

I joined Parler yesterday, wondering if the social network lived up to its free-speech mission. I didn’t immediately find the wingnut hellscape I expected (largely based on my ugly experience at another right-wing network, the far angrier and uglier Gab). Instead, I was warmly greeted upon arrival by a “concierge” who offered to show me around. I immediately got a message from the Trump campaign’s account, welcoming me to the site.

I had a look around, peeking in on some message threads, and lurking around the accounts of famous and not-so-famous right-wingers. I soon learned that there are two main reasons people are joining Parler. Many on the right are thoroughly convinced that tech companies such as Twitter and Google actively “censor” and discriminate against right-wing political views at every opportunity, though there is little actual evidence of this.

Much of the conversation is about Parler itself, and about conservatives’ loathing of tech companies and personalities—mainly Twitter and its cofounder and CEO, Jack Dorsey. Two of the most popular tags at Parler right now are #techtyrants and #stopthebias. I saw some people griping that they’d spent years growing a following at Twitter only to be forced to leave after their tweets were removed or their accounts suspended. One man suggested that users ejected from Twitter for their tweets should be able to sue the social network for damages.

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The second reason is that many on the right say they feel like they must be very careful about expressing their views on Twitter for fear of being attacked by a mob of liberal intelligentsia. They’re right that a mob mentality does exist on Twitter, and I hope I never find myself in its crosshairs because of some casual tweet or retweet.

That’s not to say that Parler is a wellspring of rational thought. Spend an hour at the site, and you start to see what the experience really is: It’s a clean, well-lighted place where mainly white people spout rumors, misinformation, and vitriol about a variety of go-to topics such as Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Big Tech, “socialism,” “Plandemic,” and Muslims. There’s plenty of venom for popular targets such as Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, George Soros, and Bill Gates. You’ll also find lots of articles being shared from Breitbart, The Washington Times, OAN, InfoWars, The Federalist, and a variety of smaller right-wing “news” sites.

The gang’s all here

Many of the biggest right-wing media stars have accounts at Parler. People such as Laura Loomer (300K followers on Parler), Michelle Malkin (62K), Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric, Rudy Guliani, Mark Levin, and Fox News contributor Dan Bongino, who recently announced that he’s bought a stake in Parler. But the biggest name of all still hasn’t made the jump from Twitter to Parler, a moment that Parler goers are eagerly awaiting. That’s Donald Trump, of course.

Senator Ted Cruz opened his account on June 3 and now has 144,000 followers. “I’m proud to be here on Parler—a platform [that] gets what free speech is all about—and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Cruz wrote in his first “parley,” the site’s equivalent of a tweet. “Let’s speak. Let’s speak freely. And let’s end the Silicon Valley censorship!”

Parler isn’t exactly the “public square” many of its users say they want.

Laura Loomer, who bills herself as an “investigative journalist” and was banned from Twitter two years ago for her repeated anti-Muslim tweetstorms, originally fled to Gab but now has found a fertile ground for her game on Parler. “I just became the first deplatformed person to exceed my Pre-Ban Twitter following here on @parler,” she recently posted. “When I was banned, people on the Left and Right cheered on the digital extermination of my persona. They said my career was over. FOREVER. Yet, here I am.”

On Friday Loomer, who is running for Congress in Florida’s 21st District, posted that “ANTIFA terrorists and Black Lives Matter” are “tied to HAMAS, an Islamic terrorist organization,” but provided no proof, or links to proof. Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar remains one of Loomer’s key obsessions. A recent post claims Omar “married her brother, she supports ISIS, she hates Jews and Christians, she hates America, and she broke up an American family by sleeping with her married campaign consultant who she has funneled over HALF A MILLION DOLLARS TO!”

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Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos (99K Parler followers) is on-brand on Parler:

But he also has an interesting take on the landscape of social networks available to the Right. “Gab is the most conspiratorial and aggressive. Telegram is the most intelligent, edgy and funny. Parler is the friendliest and most easy-going,” Yiannopoulos writes.

I have to admit: The Parler site itself is well-designed and organized. It obviously takes many cues from Twitter in terms of features and layout, but it’s got some of its own bells and whistles, such as the ability to tip other users’ posts with influence points, which you must buy with a credit card. You can also vote up posts and “echo” them by hitting a little megaphone icon.

It’s pretty clear that Parler users can indeed say pretty much anything they want. However, the site’s terms of service say Parler can eject any user with or without cause at any time for bad behavior.

But Parler isn’t exactly the “public square” many of its users say they want. I found no real debate, nor any real conversation. Instead, I found a lot of virtual head-nodding and ditto-heading. It’s a right-wing echo chamber where mainly older white people exchange right-wing memes and conspiracy theories about liberals, Democrats, and the causes and beliefs typically associated with them.

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And that’s okay. Just don’t tell me Parler is helping the political discourse that Facebook and Twitter have already damaged so badly. It simply provides a place where the right can say what it wants without having its facts challenged.

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About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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