Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Parler, an Ostensibly Libertarian Twitter-Like Website, Is Funded by Rebekah Mercer

Jeff Horwitz and Keach Hagey, Wall Street Journal:

As Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have taken a more assertive role in curbing content on their platforms, prominent conservatives on both platforms have responded with a frequent retort: Follow me on Parler.

Launched in 2018, the libertarian-leaning social network was the most downloaded app on both Android and Apple devices for most of last week, according to data from Google and analytics firm App Annie. Its leaders envision it as a free-speech-focused alternative to the giants of Silicon Valley.

The platform also has some deep-pocketed investors. Rebekah Mercer, daughter of hedge-fund investor Robert Mercer, is among the company’s financial backers, according to people familiar with the matter. The Mercers have previously financed a number of conservative causes.

Mercer and Parler co-founder John Matze confirmed Mercer’s involvement. The Mercer family are mega-donors to Republican causes, though they often describe themselves as “libertarian”, according to a 2017 profile by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. According to Mercer, Rebekah’s father, Robert, made his money running a hedge fund, and has used those earnings to fund Breitbart, effectively invented the Islamophobic “Ground Zero Mosque” myth, and thinks the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a “major mistake”.

They are not good people, is all I am saying.

Let’s get back to Parler, a website that Horwitz and Hagey describe in charitable terms. For example, they compare it to Twitter and Facebook’s personalized timelines based on user activity (emphasis mine):

Parler doesn’t do that. The platform doesn’t use content-recommendation algorithms, collects almost no data about its users and, for privacy reasons, hasn’t provided the tools to let users easily cross-post from other platforms. Parler simply shows users all the posts from everyone they follow, in reverse chronological order.

I tried registering for new accounts on Twitter and Parler. On Twitter, you can choose whether to use an email address or a phone number; when you register for Parler, you must provide both. If this is an anti-spam measure, it hasn’t worked. Parler suggests several popular hashtags to look at; one is #parler, naturally, and every post is currently either a sketchy ad for nude photos on Blogspot, or promoting pills that are “better than cocaine”.

Verification on Parler is open to everyone, but you need to submit a scan of either your driver’s license or your passport. You can also give them your Social Security Number. And, yes, Parler extensively tracks your use of its website and app. While it may not track you across the web like Facebook, it is not accurate to claim that it “collects almost no [user] data”.

Or how about this?

While Parler’s terms of service allow the app to tailor content for its users in the future, executives said they were committed to their libertarian principles.

“We’re choosing to be a neutral platform,” said Jeffrey Wernick, the company’s chief operating officer.

When this ostensibly neutral platform had its first wave of popularity in June, it rapidly banned dozens of users who apparently did not align with Parler’s definition of “free speech”, including Ed Bott for posting only “let’s see how long it takes the shitheels running this toilet to kick me out”. It took less than one day. It also banned Devin Nunes’ Cow.

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

As we said, they’ve sort of speed-run the content moderation learning curve that every website goes through when they claim to support free speech. They insist they’ll allow anything. Then they start banning spammers. Then trolls. And, that’s the same damn thing Twitter does, and even here they’re admitting that they’re banning “leftist trolls.” In fact, over the past week or so we keep having people showing up on our article from the summer about Parler banning users it doesn’t like and screaming at us about how it’s okay because they’re just banning trolls. But, that’s the point. That’s what Twitter is doing too. Except that Twitter isn’t complaining about ideological trolls.

It’s only Parler that seems to be staking out an ideological claim, trying to ban “leftist” trolls after being cofounded by one of the most extreme partisans around, who laughably claims that Parler will be neutral.

Platforms have wide freedoms to pick and choose what users and posts they permit or deny. That is fine; community management and moderation are necessary attributes of any platform. But only Parler is pretending that it is a bastion of free expression and user privacy, and the Journal ate it up.