Should Parler have been removed from Google, Apple and Amazon?
- After the violence at Capitol Hill, President Trump was accused of promoting insurrection, and furthermore banned from Twitter.
- Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey stated that the decision to permanently suspend Trump was “necessary, but raises questions about the power of social-media companies and Twitter’s failure to promote healthy conversation.”
- Because of Trump’s Twitter ban, the majorly conservative social media network, Parler, became the “most popular free App Store in the United States.”
- On Saturday, January 9, Apple, Google, and Amazon banned Parler until the platform “adopts stricter content moderation.” There have been posts encouraging violence similar to the riots at Capitol Hill, for example, a banner for a “million militia march” on inauguration day, a post inciting violence “Get the firing squads ready. Pence goes FIRST,” and a few users calling for Civil War 2.
Regardless of one's opinion as to whether Parler was ever 'needed,' it should not have been removed in reaction to last week's violence at the Capitol. Accused of being a 'right-wing' site, Parler was founded on the premise of free speech, not 'conservative' speech. Given Twitter's predilection of leftists calling for banning anyone they disagree with, free speech is a laudable goal.
While accurate that many more conservatives than liberals were flocking to it, in Parler CEO John Matze's opinion, the best way to root out stupid ideas is to 'flog' them in the court of public opinion rather than ban them. Given that people could report posts, or 'parleys,' on Parler, triggering a review, this seems a better option than relegating people with truly objectionable thoughts to smaller, darker corners of the internet. Banning, first, people and now platforms result in ever fewer people seeing the craziness of conspiracy theorists and creates echo chambers where those ideas are reinforced by agreeing parties.
As Matze points out, up till the Capitol riots, Amazon was not only encouraging Parler's use but offering to help expand their reach. Amazon did reportedly notify Parler when they became aware of offensive content. Still, when they finally threatened to pull the plug, Matze claims he was informed by Amazon that 'even their own algorithms' wouldn't have been capable of keeping up with scrubbing the reprehensive posts. Again, according to Matze, Parler was actively reviewing and removing content inciting violence (much of which is still on Twitter via screenshots) through their 'jury' system, which employs 600+ people helping to moderate. In divisive times we need even more honest, thoughtful conversation. Not less.
Parler’s unwillingness to seriously moderate the hateful and violent content proliferating on its platform is dangerous to society: Apple, Google, and Amazon are right to remove the social network from their stores and servers. In a letter to Parler, Apple described how the tech giant has “…continued to find direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action.” Amazon reportedly told Parler of ninety-eight instances of posts calling for violence in recent weeks. How could any respectable company continue to profit from a service that might lead to the violent deaths of individuals?
Those who say that these tech companies are overstepping their bounds or infringing on the first amendment rights of Parler users need to think seriously about the consequences of allowing this type of content to flourish unchecked. Further, the first amendment does not protect free speech from censorship by private companies, and it certainly does not protect against violent threats or calls for insurrection.
Finally, it makes good business sense for Apple, Google, and Amazon to be seen as proactive in removing forums that promote hateful and violent content. Modern customers want to identify with the brands that they use and see their values reflected in them. Much of the violence is believed to have been promoted on Parler. With the condemnation of the recent violence spanning across the political spectrum, these companies are wise to make sure they are on the right side of history, especially in an era where many are calling for tech companies to do more about moderating extremist content on their platforms.