What is Parler and why won't conservatives shut up about it?
Right-wing politicians and commenters are tweeting an awful lot about leaving Twitter and switching to Parler, a social media site that aims to be an "unbiased platform" where free speech and lack of censorship reign supreme. The threats to abandon Twitter come after the company began fact-checking President Trump's tweets in May, marking certain posts as 'misleading' and hiding tweets that violated Twitter's rules against glorifying violence. Trump and his allies have loudly railed against these flags and used them as evidence of what they believe is the tech industry's left-leaning bias.
Now, a growing chorus of conservative voices are trying to turn their criticism into action by calling for a mass move to Parler.
What exactly is Parler?
Founded in 2018 by the 27-year-old CEO John Matze, Parler claims to be a social media website that prioritizes free speech and refuses to engage in censorship. There are no fact checks, Matze told Forbes in an interview, and no flags that tell folks "what to think and what to say."
"The best thing is for everyone to engage with a bad idea and shut it down through public discourse," he said.
The microblogging site works a lot like Twitter with posts, comments, echoes (the Parler version of a retweet), and upvotes. It's more generous with character limits, allowing posts to reach up to 1000 characters in contrast to Twitter's 280.
The site made a splash in right-wing circles with its #Twexit campaign, which started off with an announcement called the Declaration of Internet Independence. Written to mimic the language of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the company detailed common right-wing grievances against online moderation, calling Twitter a "Tech Tyrant" that allows "technofascists" to censor conservative voices.
"They threaten all of us with digital extermination should we dare to challenge them, chilling debate and forcing the People to self-censor," the company wrote. "And, this Tech Tyrant has done all this while stealing, abusing and pillaging our personal data, dehumanizing us all."
Parler then declared that "[the] People are left with no choice but to leave Twitter. To #Twexit."
Specifically, to #Twexit to Parler, where the company claims to be a "non-biased free speech social media focused on protecting users' rights and providing transparency in technology."
The "non-biased" part already seems tenuous, as the company appears to be courting right-wing politicians, commenters, and publications in particular.
However, on Saturday, Matze told CNBC that he doesn't intend to turn the site into a right-wing echo chamber and has offered a "progressive bounty" of $20,000 for any "openly liberal pundit" with 50,000 followers to join the site. At this time, there don't appear to be any takers.
Right-wing conservatives make a move
So far, many right-wingers are following through on their threats to create Parler accounts. The app has been installed so often that it's become one of the top five free apps on Google Play; in the App Store, it's one of the top news apps.
The app's burst in popularity can be partly attributed to some very visible conservative names promoting the site, such as frequent Fox News commenter Dan Bongino (who owns a stake in Parler), and Texas senator Ted Cruz.
Last Thursday, Sen. Cruz posted a video on Twitter and YouTube making an announcement about his Parler account with the same level of seriousness one would expect from someone announcing a run for president.
"Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube: These are some of the most visited sites in the world," he began. "They're run by left-wing, Silicon Valley billionaires; they have an unparalleled ability to shape what Americans see and hear and ultimately think. And they use that power to silence conservatives and to promote their radical left-wing agenda."
He continued to condemn the platforms' abilities to "shadowban" users, claimed they were promoting leftist agendas, and declared they were violating the rights of U.S. citizens — including the president himself.
"These actions don't just threaten our First Amendment rights and our free speech," he continued, "they threaten the integrity of our elections and the future of our democracy."
Sen. Cruz then expressed his enthusiasm for a "free speech" platform like Parler. Other politicians and conservative elites, like Congressman Devin Nunes and members of President Trump's family, have also either considered it or already created accounts.
Parler isn't a complete free-for-all
Despite claims that the company will have a hands-off approach to moderation, there are still rules and guidelines to follow. There's no spam allowed; no posts in support of terrorist organizations; no defamation or blackmailing; no "fighting words" or "threats to harm" others; no pornography, obscenity, or indecency; and no posts encouraging marijuana since it's still "federally illegal."
The process of signing up for an account also requires a phone number, and getting verified on Parler requires a scan of your driver's license and a photo of yourself. Twitter, on the other hand, only needs a request for consideration sent to the company's verification team.
Since Parler's verification process asks for close personal information, Matze has already been busy banning verified "teenage leftists" that are raiding Parler posts with spam.
However, the amount of personal information and the sudden promotion of the site has put some right-wing users on edge. There are already conspiracy theories and questions about what happens to the personal data the company takes.
Furthermore, the Parler terms of service states that users agree to cover all legal costs if a post turns out to be defamatory and is taken to court.
"Parler will have the right to conduct its own defense, at your expense, in any action or proceeding covered by this indemnity," the terms state (emphasis added).
Some people have brushed off Parler as another Gab — a conservative-courting social media site that housed the hateful posts of the gunman charged with killing 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue — but with worse privacy policies.
Additionally, there's no telling how long it'll last even with this wave of support. The thing is, Twitter comes with an immense audience that takes some work and effort to build. Some have questioned whether figureheads with high visibility, such as the president, would be willing to abandon those numbers, especially right before a presidential election.
And numbers do seem to be important — perhaps as important as free speech — as many politicians and commenters appear to be holding onto and regularly updating their Twitter accounts to maintain visibility.
To entice their peers over, right-wing users have been noting that their engagement numbers are doing better on Parler than on Twitter.
The right-wing activity has prompted Parler and other conservatives to encourage President Trump to jump ship. But whether he's willing to leave his massive amount of followers is still up in the air.
It's completely possible that he'd rather fight Twitter to the bitter end, riling up both support and anger the whole way.