Parler, the conservative social media app for “freedom of speech,” is back in the Apple App Store. But like everything involving social media and free speech, getting it back is complicated.
As of Monday, Parler is available for download on iPhone and iPad. This comes about four months after Parler was banned or restricted by Apple, Amazon, Google and almost every other major technology company for allowing some of its users to stage open violence after the 2020 US election – namely of the Capitol Uprising in the United States on January 6.
In order for Parler to comply with Apple̵
Parler’s detached return to the mass Internet is another example of the increasingly polarized nature of political discussion on social media. Platforms like Parler are taking advantage of the search for a social media network where people can say whatever they want, at a time when companies like Facebook and Twitter have introduced more rules to limit harmful content.
Since its launch in 2018, Parler has introduced itself as a place where people can speak freely without “fearing being” deplatformed “for their views.” But now it agrees to play by Apple’s rules by blocking speech of hatred and violent content. This is easier said than done – especially given Parler’s relatively small size and the fact that many large technology companies no longer want to work with them.
Much larger companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter are struggling to create and enforce their rules on harmful content, raising the question of how Parler will do so without such problems. And Apple, which until recently largely managed to stay out of the debate over political speech (unlike Facebook and Twitter), will now have to play a key role in deciding where to go with Parler and whether the app actually handles his promise to block hate speech on his platform.
“It’s going to be an interesting story to watch in a number of ways,” said Evelyn Duek, a professor at Harvard Law School who studies online moderation. “There’s the story of what’s going on with Parler himself, whether it’s getting more serious about hate speech and violent content, and then what it means for Apple to enter the content moderation game.”
How the new Parler app will work
You should now be able to download Parler from the Apple App Store. However, it seems that the reboot has some errors. Although the company said people should be able to use the new app from today, Recode ran into some issues when we tried on three different iPhones to search for the app in Apple’s App Store, create accounts, sign in, and use the app. .
Parler did not respond to a request for comment on these issues or other issues. Apple did not respond to a request for comment as to why Parler did not appear in the App Store search results.
Assuming that Parler solves any technical difficulties that its specific Apple application may have at the moment, the other major complication includes the fact that there are two different versions of Parler: one for iOS and another for anywhere else where you can still click on hateful content once you see the label.
In early January, Parler was effectively launched from the Internet because Amazon refused to host its web services on its AWS platform. But less than two weeks later, Parler returned online, thanks in part to Russia’s Russian-owned DDos-Guard, which helped him with the technical infrastructure to return online. Soon after, the company returned to Google’s Android platform in a sense: The app is still banned in the Google Play Store, but Android users can still bypass the Play Store and download it to their Android phones.
This is a confusing state of Parler’s two-story application offerings. A person reading Parler Lite on Apple devices can see a much friendlier discussion than anyone else seeing the full app. There is also a risk that people will use Apple’s version of Parler to attract followers and then use violence against non-Apple versions of Parler.
The problems with Apple Parler are far from over
Although Apple has decided to release Parler back to its app store for now, it will still need to review whether Parler meets its standards in the long run. And as Parler has become a hotbed in the debate over free speech and harmful content online, this will prove to be a politically thorny issue.
Big Tech’s ban on Parler was justified by many who thought the company was deliberately neglecting its responsibility to stop people from organizing violence online. But others, including Republican leaders such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and California Representative Kevin McCarthy, saw it as Silicon Valley, which is too criminal, following conservative speeches.
Parler eventually returned online in mid-February – albeit without the main distribution channels for the Apple App Store and Google Play Store – after finding support from alternative technical infrastructure networks. And in Parler’s absence, some extremists have migrated to private messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp, where they are harder to catch for violating policies.
The reality is that almost all major social networks have rules against violent and hateful content. And it is inevitable that people will break them. Facebook, Twitter, and Google are far from perfect, but they usually make an effort to at least try to retain content that clearly violates these rules. This was not the case with Parler, which took a radically more practical approach to content moderation than any of its competitors. The app quickly became a place for users who were banned by more popular social media companies.
Former CEO John Matze defended Parler’s content moderation policies when he was interviewed by Recode co-founder and New York Times columnist Kara Swisher in her podcast shortly after the Capitol riot. Matze was fired from the board of Parler in early February, and on Monday the company announced a new CEO, conservative British politician George Farmer.
In theory, Parler agreed to take a tougher line on hate speech about Apple. But what remains to be seen is how they will deliver on that promise and how much Apple will continue to change its power over the mobile market to keep Parler up to its new standards.