But My Group Wants to Parler All The Time, Parler All The Time
There is nothing new under the sun, especially in the world of Parler, which is now on their second “Twexit” this calendar year.
Thanks to all the attention in recent days, Parler is now one of the most downloaded apps on Apple and Android smartphones. It has hit 10 million members — more than double the 4.5 million it had last week, according to Jeffrey Wernick, the company’s chief operating officer.
“Our growth is not attributable to any one person or group, but rather to Parler’s efforts to earn our community’s trust, both by protecting their privacy, and being transparent about the way in which their content is handled on our platform,” Wernick said in a statement.
Wow. 10 Million Members! Doubling the members in a week! Taking over the world!!!!…until you realize that Twitter has 187 million daily active users, and Facebook has 2 billion — with a “b” — daily users. Still, impressive numbers… But is this really the changing of the social media guard, or is something else going on here?
Let’s back up.
Back in June, during the last “Twexit” where lots of folks declared on Twitter that they would be leaving Twitter forever and join Parler, our own Em Carpenter did a little investigating, along with the help of a created identity that was “professing my love for God, country, boobs, and Trump” to get her foot in the door of Parler:
…it took me a long time to gather enough thoughts and material to write this, because spending time on the app was just. so. boring. Each user congratulating the next for his or her contribution to this giant echo chamber. The same Bongino and Washington Examiner articles posted over and over again. Stylized images of Trump as American hero. People posting Babylon Bee articles captioned “is this true?” And, surprisingly, an inordinate amount of discussion of Twitter and how courageous they all are for breaking free of its confines in favor of this brave new world. I nearly expected a video of one of them hurling a sledge hammer through a computer screen. There is very little debating of ideas, no personal banter, no fun; just platitudes espousing how great it is not to be a lib. It is one, big, monotonous circle jerk.
It’s not all far-right or even all conservatives. The Krassenstein brothers, also banned from Twitter, have active Parler accounts. Lots of normal, rational right-leaning folks have accounts as well. Unfortunately, I suspect most decent people will be turned off by the vile nature of much of what passes for discourse
“Free speech” is supposedly the platform’s big draw. But free speech at Parler seems to consist mostly of calling AOC a cunt, advocating the vehicular manslaughter of protesters, and professing one’s self to be unapologetically racist. I mean that literally — several profile bios use exactly those words. Much of what I have seen there is just over-the-top ugliness for shock value, like a couple of kids out of mom and dad’s earshot, cursing for the first time.
Fast forward back to post-election America, and the folks who were upset at media — both social and otherwise — enough to give Parler a go back in June are really upset now in the wake of President Trump’s electoral defeat and their perception of unfair coverage. And some big names in Trump-friendly media are making the push part of their current marketing:
Hurry and follow me at Parler. I may not stay at Facebook or Twitter if they continue censoring me. And one day I’ll have left their platforms. Parler is a wonderful alternative and is growing, and we need you there ASAP. It believes in truly open speechhttps://t.co/3RnjMoknfj pic.twitter.com/ZArJv0Yw8X
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) November 15, 2020
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) November 15, 2020
Hubby and I working with @RudyGiuliani on @realDonaldTrump legal election fight. Go to @Parler to read facts @Twitter won’t let me tell you. Court filings start next week. Had to interview witnesses and draft Declarations to make sure all facts accurate. #maga
— Victoria Toensing (@VicToensing) November 15, 2020
Here’s the thing. I think it’s great that folks want to have their own thing. I hope everyone involves does great, makes lots of money, and has a great time doing it. I support anyone who, unhappy with their current circumstances, gets their hustle on and does something about it. If I was advising someone who had their business model wrapped up in the MAGA-brand of political discourse for the last 4 years, I would be advising them to embrace and dive into things like Parler as a potential base/audience for the folks they are trying to reach/do business with. Parler absolutely has a right to be, and compete, in the marketplace of ideas with their product and platform.
It’s for all those same reasons, however, that I don’t think Parler is experiencing organic growth or byproduct at all, but an intermediate step in a certain clique of folks who are about to be adrift between causes. It is this reason why I have criticism of it. Starting with the folks behind it, you can start to draw a line of why it started, how Parler got to this point, and begin to plot out where it appears the Parler powers-that-be are intending to take it:
Parler, founded in 2018, touts itself as “the world’s premier free speech platform.” On Saturday, CEO and co-founder John Matze said one of the privately-owned company’s early investors is Rebekah Mercer, who along with her father, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, has been a backer of President Trump and is also a major donor to conservative causes including Breitbart News and former White House strategist Steve Bannon.
“John and I started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech,” Rebekah Mercer wrote on Parler on Saturday. She went on to condemn “the ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.”
The Mercers, previously big spenders on Breitbart, Steve Bannon, and President Trump’s campaigns, being involved makes a lot of sense and brings plenty of financial and political horsepower to the endeavor. The last Twexit — no, the one in June, not this one…I know it gets confusing — came with the news that Dan Bongino had “bought an ownership stake” into the platform, along with his aptitude to be constantly trending on social media platforms. Especially on Facebook, where he is consistently among the most viewed of posters. With his MAGA-cred secure, Bongino seemed the perfect front man for the fledgling app to cash in on disenchanted Trump supporters. This latest Twexit — no, this present one, not the one in June…we really should have a flowchart for this — includes even bigger names, like the aforementioned Levin and Ingraham. Both of whom not only have large social media followings, but also Fox News shows, along with their other endeavors in radio, print, and media. Then comes news of the more than doubling of users, and the topping of download lists for Parler.
Despite Parler’s rapid growth, McGregor and other experts are skeptical that conservatives with the biggest audiences will actually abandon larger social media apps — even though they are encouraging their followers to do so. “All these people have accounts on Twitter because that’s where journalists are and that’s where the press is,” McGregor said. “If they actually left Twitter, they would be less newsworthy.”
Renée DiResta, who tracks misinformation at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said this is what happened when Parler went through another growth spurt this summer, after Twitter first began labeling President Trump’s tweets for making false claims. “Even prominent accounts like Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who announced [in June and July] that they were going to Parler, did not actually leave Twitter, did not decrease their posting patterns on Twitter,” or post as frequently on Parler, she said. She said she expected the flurry of activity on Parler to continue in the short term, especially as Facebook keeps shutting down Stop the Steal groups.
“But it’s unclear that this is really indicative of a mass movement to vacate platforms and form socially conservative spaces,” she said.
Which brings us back to my working theory on the purpose of Parler. I suspect the Parler powers-that-be see the potential of Parler not only as a parallel, right wing Twitter, but as an invaluable information/data mine to build an audience for the forthcoming Trump-friendly media endeavors.
There has been widespread speculation that President Trump’s next move after leaving office is going to be a return to media. Variations on this theme vary from buying up/partnering with one of the fledgling, Trump-friendly news outlets like One American News Network or Newsmax, to starting a completely new media concern from scratch. The constant assaulting of previously friendly-turf Fox News has done nothing to quell such talk. Plus, the narrative for such a move is now over 4 years into the ingraining stage of that potential audience, even if the terminology changes a bit.
I had the chance to interview Shaun Commack of The Narratives Project a few weeks ago,1 and he explained how the term and narrative of “big tech censorship” is what he calls “the sequel to Fake News.”
I think the structure of the big tech censorship narrative is the same as the structure of the fake news narrative. So, the “fake news” narrative is the left wing media companies are using their influence to promote their preferred political parties, and the “big tech censorship” is that left wing tech companies are censoring conservatives and using their influence to promote the political parties they prefer…So, it has the same structure, it’s just slightly different characters to the story. And I know this is a slightly abstract way to talk about these things, I want to emphasize I’m not saying they aren’t doing that. There certainly are elements of suppression going on, and what have you. I just think it is the same kind of story.
And it is a compelling story. That’s the thing about all these, whether it’s “fake news”, or “big tech censorship, or “Russian disinformation”, or whatever. They are compelling stories because there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s good guys and bad guys. And as soon as you say it, the whole movie pops in your head, and you understand, and that’s the sort of framework you use to integrate new information. So, now you get the headlines where Twitter is asking people to read (past) the headlines before retweeting, a little soft barrier. That can be seen as a nice sort of public service, something Twitter is doing to make sure people are reading the stories before they go and tweet them out. But if I say, “No, that’s big tech censorship” you have that new information, and you instantly integrate that into that old narrative of, “oh no, this is big tech company trying to suppress conservatives or whoever and promote their political viewpoints.
Now maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not, but the point is it is a really compelling way to see new information and a lot of people seem to use it.
Such understanding makes for good planning for folks who want to make news, information, and narratives a business model to sell to those who gravitate to such things. Folks predisposed to think they are being done wrong and who want somewhere that caters to their wants and needs. Parler, the Mercers, Bongino, and President Trump, should he embrace it, probably are making a great business decision in the short term to harness such feelings.
But color me skeptical that it will be a long-term business model. Already, and only in its 5th year, MAGA and Trumpism is evolving and changing. “Fake news” has given way to “big tech censorship” which will at some point give way to whatever the next outrage du jour is to move the herd ever onward. I suspect that just like with Fox News, there will be those who find Parler just as restrictive and will soon enough declare the new platform no better than the old Twitter, and will move on seeking even greener internet pastures. When everything you don’t like is censorship, any attempt to reign in any platform is going to be met with the same charges of censorship, and Parler has even less clout than Twitter to do so, having enticed folks with promises of being different. Harnessing such digital nomads for any long-term stable business is going to be hard. Very hard.
In fact, it already is:
There’s a strange disinformation campaign afoot that’s meant to either convince people that George Soros owns Parler or that Fox falsely reported he does, all using a badly photoshopped Fox screenshot. Dan Bongino is not thrilled. pic.twitter.com/KuzXB5yN83
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) November 11, 2020
Good thing Bongino kept his Twitter account, so we could all be privy to that important piece of insight from the Twexitsphere over at Parler.
Twitter, for all its faults, self-inflicted wounds, and the horrendous public facing leadership of Jack Dorsey who more often than not comes off utterly clueless, is the platform that matters in the discourse right now. That’s where the average Twitter user can still — at least theoretically — get the attention of the movers and shakers of the world. As candidate Trump demonstrated on his way to 2016 victory and the much-discussed billions in free media, Twitter is both the headwaters where an outsized amount of influence on news media starts, and the watershed that filters to other platforms, outlets, and brands.
It was not always this way, and some day Twitter will cease be the aorta to the media’s beating heart. But right now, today, it is, and any other platform is just going to be peripheral and secondary to it. Especially one that is pitching itself as a place for specific groups to hunker down in a friendly fallout shelters to a hostile media.
It’s not just the fight that matters, but where you fight so that you make an impact. Not just fighting for the sake of fighting but fighting for a purpose to maybe do some good and reach others. That’s Twitter in the year of our Lord 2020, so that’s where I’ll be for the foreseeable future. Speaking only for myself, but I signed up for Twitter in the first place, my first social media account of any kind, specifically for the purpose of seeing if I could still compete in the area of ideas. I had to fight my way in, work hard for what I now have, and plan on continuing to do so.
I wish you all the luck in the world, folks departing Twitter for Parler. Have fun with it. But if you find out it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or not as advertised, or you think maybe the flawed but wider-reaching Twitter might be missing your voice, I’ll be right here waiting when you get back.
That is, if you ever really leave at all.
- Shaun was a guest when I was guest hosting Mornings with Joe Catenacci; the full interview is available here with Shaun’s segment starting at the 1:33:00 mark.