Parler ($PARLER) - the right-wing answer to Twitter - has gotten off to a pretty good start with high-profile conservative endorsements, but fundamental flaws in their business model spell danger.
A seed change moment in the history of American free speech came late last Spring, though you might have already forgotten it. On May 26, Twitter slapped the first in a series of fact-check warnings on a Donald Trump tweet, which made the unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots are easily tampered with and vulnerable to fraud.
There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
A cry immediately went out in the right-wing media sphere. Jack Dorsey is a tyrant! With Twitter ($NYSE:TWTR) lost to the thought police, the question was thus: Who would step up to preserve the American conservative voice?
Mercifully, the suburban Las Vegas-based Parler answered the call. Founders John Matze and Jared Thomson presented their social networking app as a “free speech driven entity” and “virtual town square,” absent of the bans and fact-checking addendums that have come to characterize Twitter in the conservative mind.
Early signs pointed to a very qualified success. 130,000 followers in just a few days is impressive for a Twitter competitor, even if the metric here is Twitter followers.
In the last week of June, big Parler endorsements started coming down the pipe. Among others, Ted Cruz (R-TX) used his senatorial platform to boost the app, asking his followers to make the exodus with him.
I’m proud to join @parler_app -- a platform gets what free speech is all about -- and I’m excited to be a part of it. Let’s speak. Let’s speak freely. And let’s end the Silicon Valley censorship. Follow me there @tedcruz! pic.twitter.com/pzUFvhipBZ— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 25, 2020
He was followed by lesser right-wing personalities like Candace Owens and Sean Hannity. There they met the lesser-still figures already on the platform, such as anti-Islam provocateur Laura Loomer, sensational fraudster Jacob Wohl, and white supremacist-associated Milo Yiannopolous.
All the commotion, and an astute media strategy by Parler, caused Politico to gasp and wonder, Would Trump abandon Twitter? Would the right at-large?
My take: No, to both questions. Parler will probably pull off some far-right content too edgy for Twitter, but will remain a small parasite on Jack Dorsey’s side, at best.
Two Problems Regarding "Free Speech"
First, free speech being Parler’s whole thing makes the reports that the platform is already suspending and banning accounts - just a few days after launching - a little worrying.
Well I got banned from Parler— Thor Benson (@thor_benson) June 27, 2020
As is, the entire app is set up like a dare for extreme right-wingers and trolls alike to say the most rank things imaginable, until moderators have to step in and stop it from becoming an embarrassment. That walking-back process has already started, and with Parler's MO, every bit of censorship dilutes the brand.
In terms of a meaningful exchange of ideas, the horizons can do little but recede in what is most likely going to be a contest for who can be the least PC. For instance, Milo Yiannopolous is gleefully gunning to be the first big account kicked, posting a flurry of ‘Parleys’ too lazy and offensive to merit reproduction here. Right-wingers might get a small kick out of this for a bit, but the idea isn’t engaging enough to pull down one of the biggest giants in Silicon Valley.
Of course, Twitter’s dominance is still not even close to being questioned. It would take a massive event to put a dent in these numbers.
Second, and more to the core of the issue: To those of us who have spent the better part of a decade watching how the left and right interact online, the glaring error in thinking Parler is self-sustainable jumps right out. We have been armed with the knowledge that, in reality, the mainstream American right desperately wants the attention and admiration of a culture that tends to its left. In a phrase, reactionaries need content to react to. If conservatives didn’t crave outside validation, or the dopamine hit from dunking on the ‘Ok Boomer’ Bernie girl, well, there are plenty of private messaging apps available to them - most of them with encryption!
But with Ted Cruz, there is no clearer case of a man who so badly needs to be widely respected and admired, even by his enemies. The original sin of Parler is that it will sorely lack “cringe” lefty content for Cruz et al. to wag a finger at. This is exactly why Parler’s founders are offering $20,000 to liberal pundits to join their platform, and hardcore Parler-ers are coming back to Twitter to tell libs how mad they are about at their new favorite app’s success. Where else would the content come from?
The libs are losing their minds about the runaway success of Parler. They’re screaming at the skies again, enraged that they can’t suppress your speech anymore. They worship tyranny and they hate liberty & freedom.— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) June 27, 2020
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