Parler: the social network that's winning conservative recruits

Seen as the hot new app on the right, the Twitter-like platform’s stress on free speech is attracting those banned elsewhere

Parler has some high-profile conservative users, such as Senator Ted Cruz and the Fox News host Maria Bartimoro.
Parler has some high-profile conservative users, such as Senator Ted Cruz and the Fox News host Maria Bartimoro. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Parler has some high-profile conservative users, such as Senator Ted Cruz and the Fox News host Maria Bartimoro. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Last modified on Fri 13 Nov 2020 15.27 EST

As social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook crack down more forcefully on falsehoods and misinformation, conservative users are flocking to a new platform: Parler.

The social network, which resembles Twitter, takes its name from the French verb meaning “to talk” but is often pronounced like the English word “parlor”. And it’s fast becoming the hottest new app on the right, with high-profile proponents like Senator Ted Cruz recruiting new users.

Parler’s popularity has exploded amid mounting frustration over Twitter’s supposed anti-conservative bias (Twitter has long denied this). It shot to the top of Apple’s trending apps list in the wake of the US election, with downloads soaring by 2,000% between 7 November and 9 November, from 172,000 a day to 428,700 a day. On 9 November alone the number of downloads surpassed 500,000.

So what is this platform and who is using it? Here’s what you need to know.

What is Parler and how does it work?

Parler is a Twitter-like social media app launched in 2018 by John Matze, who is still its chief executive officer. A user can post text or images, which other users can then comment on, give a vote of approval, or “echo”, which appears to be the Parler version of a retweet.

Unlike Twitter, it appears to not offer a “discover” page or “trending topics” – instead you have to seek out and search for the accounts you want to follow.

There are supposedly only two rules on Parler: first, no posting anything unlawful and two, no spam. Parler “does not remove content based on politics or ideology”, the company said in a statement, and is “dedicated to free speech”.

Who is using Parler?

As of late July 2020, the app had by its own account more than 2.5 million users, but it probably has more now given its recent increase in downloads. The content posted primarily leans to the right, with many users stating they joined because Twitter would not allow them “free speech”, some using the hashtag #Twexit to show they had left Twitter.

“We welcome all to join our platform which emphasizes free speech and open discourse,” CEO Matze said in a statement, in response to the app’s recent growth.

A number of high-profile conservatives are on the app. Senator Ted Cruz has promoted it. Republican politicians Jim Jordan, Elise Stefanik, Rand Paul and Nikki Haley are on it. The rightwing pundit Candace Owens as early as December 2018 was recruiting Twitter followers to move to Parler. The Fox News host Maria Bartimoro gained more than 700,000 followers on Parler after announcing she would soon leave Twitter.

Parler has also become a safe haven for conservatives pushed out of other platforms. The rightwing provocateur Laura Loomer, who has been banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Uber and Lyft has been welcomed on Parler, where she has 721,000 followers and advertises herself as “the most banned woman in the world”.

Parler has apparently been courting one major user it has yet to secure: Donald Trump. The president, whose tweets have been censored more than 30 times in recent days, has almost 89 million Twitter followers and has been particularly outspoken in his criticisms of the platform.

How is that going?

The free speech mandate touted by Parler is not as straightforward as it seems. One item in its terms of service tells users they can be billed for any losses or damages attributed to what they post on Parler. Leftists and liberals say they are already being banned from the app for content the conservative, free-speech-loving user base disagrees with.

Content can also be removed for violating Parler policy. If content is reported, it is sent to a “jury portal” for review by members of the community. That jury is made up of “volunteer, verified Parleyers”, who participate in regular training sessions.

People are warned via a notification when they receive a report and are hit with one “violation point”. If a person gets more than 20 violation points in 90 days, they will be removed from the platform. This system stands in contrast with Twitter and Facebook, whose esoteric censorship processes have been controversial.

The goal of a complete lack of censorship on the platform is leading to some content struggles for Parler, involving pornography, obscenities and spam. Beyond that, its design is still clunky, showing users a privacy policy through a Microsoft Word document.

With ongoing challenges to Section 230, which protects platforms from being held responsible for the content posted, Parler could face more legal trouble in the future, even as conservatives flock to it.