Parler – Okay Fine Let’s Do this

Recently, Parler, the conservative alternative to Twitter/Facebook, has been garnering a lot of media attention. I’m going to sign up and investigate the site which is purportedly a bastion of free speech in which there are few rules.

Source: Parler.com

After myriad compliants that Facebook was censoring conservative political speech, republicans and Trump supporters organized a “mass exodus” from Facebook and Twitter, to make the digital pilgrimage to Parler. This holy land of free speech principles now hosts such GOP heavyweights as Ted Cruz, Devin Nunes, Mark Levin, and Eric Trump.

In the “values” portion of the site, Parler lists which sort of values it intends to promote on its site, including open free speech, no shadowbanning, and a community based moderation force. Specifically, the site states:

Biased content curation policies enable rage mobs and bullies to influence Community Guidelines. Parler’s viewpoint-neutral policies foster a community of individuals who tolerate the expression of all non-violent ideas.

I’m genuinely curious to see how this method of moderation works. Parler was created in 2018, and evidently presaged a conservative exodus from Facebook, after FB tightened its policy on misleading and false information posts surrounding the election. If conservatives have felt the brunt of Facebook and Twitter’s new moderation policies, the true test will be whether Parler can maintain free speech without bias, while conserving the quality of discussion – or at least I’d assume quality is something the site is looking to foster.

Logging In

I originally signed up on mobile, after which I had to verify my account with an SMS code(texted to me). I then attempted to sign in from my computer, and again was asked for an additional SMS code. I appreciate the added step of SMS verification. Now that I’m in(again), here we go.

Choosing who to follow

Like Twitter, much of a person’s experience with Parler is going to be shaped by who they follow. I decided to follow Ted Cruz, and then searched for Devin Nunes to follow, but found this:

The many faces of Devin Nunes

There are over a dozen accounts of animals purporting to belong to Devin Nunes. The most common of these animals is evidently Devin Nunes’ Cow, which I assume is some inside joke I don’t yet know. There is also an account for Devin Nune’s Cow’s Cow, which I can only assume plays an advisory role for Devin Nune’s Cow.

You’ll notice there are both a yellow “P” and red “P” icon next to two of the names in the above picture. If you hover your cursor over these icons you’ll see that:

  • Yellow = influencer
  • Red = verified

You’ll necessarily follow then that Devin Nunes is listed as an “influencer”, denoted by the yellow icon, and that Devin Nunes’ Ass is listed as “verified”, as shown by the red icon. In Twitter, a “verified” person is someone who is vetted by Twitter directly as being a real person, and who they purport to be. We can only hope that isn’t the case here. Or do we? No, no we don’t.

For sake of scientific rigor, I have added both Devin Nunes(who I suspect may actually be the congressman’s real account) and Devin Nunes’ Ass(who if there is a loving god will be fake). The fact that I can’t really tell who the real representative is among the several official sounding names(Devin Nunes’ Ass aside) doesn’t strike me as a good thing, but let’s carry on.

I searched for Eric Trump as well, only to be met with another 20 accounts which look like “EricTrumpOfficial” and “TheEricTrumpAccount”. There is one account which is labeled “influencer” by the yellow icon, and I have decided to follow this account. And also TheofficialEricTrump.

The Feed

Time to open the trusting maw of my political opinions and consume the media which will inform my political positions. Let’s start with the first post on my feed:

Source: “Influencer” Devin Nunes, and not the verified account Devin Nunes’ Ass.

The post cites an article by Newsbusters.org, which says that President Obama makes the following claims:

  1. Obama told The Atlantic that the current information landscape of Big Tech platforms “is the single biggest threat to our democracy.” , and
  2. Calls for censorship

These two claims are in the title, so I thought I’d look into these first. I started by reading The Atlantic article. The first claim comes from this question and answer portion in The Atlantic article:

Goldberg: Is this new malevolent information architecture bending the moral arc away from justice?

Obama: I think it is the single biggest threat to our democracy. 

Just prior to this, Obama was commenting on the fact that when he was running, he could speak with conservative local papers and at least get a fair shake – meaning that he could forward a policy which the media would not agree with, but that they would at least concede he was acting in good faith and report it fairly. Here is Obama talking about good-faith debate:

I can have an argument with you about what to do about climate change. I can even accept somebody making an argument that, based on what I know about human nature, it’s too late to do anything serious about this—the Chinese aren’t going to do it, the Indians aren’t going to do it—and that the best we can do is adapt. I disagree with that, but I accept that it’s a coherent argument. I don’t know what to say if you simply say, “This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up, and the scientists are cooking the books. And that footage of glaciers dropping off the shelves of Antarctica and Greenland are all phony.”

Since then, Obama laments that local newspapers have dissappeared, and presumably ceded ground to media firms like Sinclair Media.

So, as far as claim #1 goes, this is a fairly accurate assessment of Obama’s remarks in the Atlantic article – he believes that the current media landscape poses danger to America Democracy.

The second claim purports that Obama calls for censorship of television and online media.

At the end of the day, we’re going to have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that address this, because it’s going to get worse.

Based on the previous question in the article, Obama was referring to media platforms tackling “big issues” like the Coronavirus. Media platforms, Obama decries, have claimed the position of a “telephone carrier” where they remain neutral on the content which is created on their platform. When public health or safety issues arise, it becomes very difficult to have a comprehensive, cohesive public policy trusted by the American public because of the amount of misinformation available through social media platforms. Obama further posits that if we can’t tell the difference between whats true and what’s false, the marketplace of ideas has failed, and therefore democracy has failed.

This has created a sort of paradox; the government cannot(or should not) regulate free speech, but has the duty to disseminate truthful information to its citizens to defeat public health or safety information. For example, it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater – a common example of the limits of free speech.This act presents an immediate threat to those in the movie theatre, which is why it is in the public interest to criminalize this type of speech. If a person online says that Covid-19 is a government conspiracy to inject you with a microchip to track you, one could make the argument that this statement too poses an immediate threat to those who hear it. However, since the message was posted online, we aren’t able to accurately determine who has heard the message, nor whether it presents an immediate threat to the message recipients. This is the challenge that public health officials have to contend with concerning “fake news”.

I break from Obama here to say that government regulation is not the key here, but it is a prime subject for public debate: should social media platforms be able to allow content which poses a public health risk to be aired?

The Feed 2

Wow that was a lot of analysis for one single article shared. So far, no evidence that anyone is being moderated, though I will continue searching. Stay tuned for the follow up post, part 2.

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