Five days after the election that had the entire country anxiously refreshing the electoral map, Joe Biden won Pennsylvania and surpassed the required 270 electoral college votes to win the presidency. While Biden supporters were dancing in the streets, Trump supporters were sulking, shouting fraud, and planning their mass exit off Facebook onto a social media platform called Parler.
Since election day, the Twitter-like social media platform which a week ago held the position of 1,023th most downloaded app, has climbed to the number one most downloaded app in the App store. In a single day, the app added two million new users, and engagement by active users increased by four-fold, according to Parler founder John Matze.
Trump supporters are flocking to Parler (and other social media sites like MeWe or Gab) after social media giants like Facebook and Twitter implemented safeguards to try and stop the spread of misinformation and untruths about the election. Many Trump supporters who took the safeguards as personal attacks and viewed them as biased, see Parler, which claims to welcome all points of view, as their space for free speech. According to its community guidelines, Parler prefers to keep its removal of community members and member-provided content “to the absolute minimum,” and endeavors to allow all lawful free speech. However, there have been reports of left-leaning folks being banned from the platform though it’s CEO has confirmed that he would like to see more liberal voices on the app to encourage healthy debate.
Parler was launched in 2018 by two University of Denver graduates and is similar in many ways to Twitter.
Users can follow accounts and content appears in a chronological news feed, similar to Twitter. Posts can include photos, GIFs, and memes. Users can comment on posts and search for hashtags. Rather than retweet, Parler users can choose to echo a post, and rather than like, they can upvote.
Unlike Twitter, each post can include up to 1,000 characters.
Trump isn’t on Parler, but other high-profile right-wing names have found a space there.
By November 9, Texas Senator Ted Cruz had racked up 2.6 million followers, and Fox News hosts Mark Levin and Sean Hannity each had more than two million, according to the BBC.
Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale reportedly has an account on Parler, as does the Trump campaign, though the number of followers is significantly less than on either Facebook or Twitter.
This isn’t the first mass exit off social media by disgruntled right-wing supporters who’ve had untruths and messages of violence banned.
In June, a number of accounts that posted disinformation about COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests were banned from the big social media sites. Those accounts migrated to Parler. Shortly thereafter, thousands of QAnon supporters also joined Parler after Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube took action against their attempts to spread untruths and conspiracy theories. Groups like the Proud Boys and Boogaloo Bois, which have been banned from Facebook for promoting violence, have also found a home on Parler.
Trump supporters love this app because they have found a space where they can largely spread rumors and buy into misinformation without real limitations…and that’s potentially dangerous.
My first thought when I saw that President Trump’s followers were planning a mass Facebook exit was a shrug and a thought: no need to announce your exit. At first, it seemed like nothing more than the adult equivalent of throwing a tantrum when you lose and snatching away your ball so no one else can play with it.
My second thought, when I realized Trump supporters, right-wing conspiracy theorists, and groups largely spurred by hate were moving to a new social media platform, was fear.
Parler’s community guidelines state that they will not allow their platform to be used “as a tool for crime, civil torts, or other unlawful acts,” and they purport to “remove reported member content that a reasonable and objective observer would believe constitutes or evidences such activity.” The guidelines also suggest members who use the platform as a tool for crime or unlawful acts will be removed. The elaborated guidelines confirm that threats of violence are against guidelines, but within that language there’s a significant amount of wiggle room for subjective determinations to decide whether the threat is made with “intent or reckless disregard” and whether it will “place the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.”
There’s something inherently concerning in thinking about this group of people (or any group of people) surrounding themselves—speaking to and listening to—only people who agree with them. The space doesn’t become one of ideas and discussion, but rather an echo chamber of sorts—an environment where existing views are reinforced and any conflicting or alternative ideas are not heard or considered. In a space filled with many who have called for violence, who have spread misinformation, that is a breeding ground for trouble, a potential ground for anger and hate to flourish and be acted upon.
That initial fear was only exacerbated when I saw posts about this mass migration onto Parler alongside posts urging Trump supporters to turn their backs on Fox News in favor of a different right-wing network.
There’s something concerning about a mass migration of a group of people from Facebook and Fox News after years of loyal usership and viewership the moment both platforms veer from that group’s core beliefs. These supporters, rather than questioning their own beliefs, are so sure of their correctness, despite evidence in many cases, that they immediately rejected Facebook and Fox News after years of loyalty. There’s something frightening about how quickly anyone who doesn’t fall in line is deemed a traitor, how dissent isn’t a moment to reflect but a swift rejection.
This election proved there are fundamental divisions in this country that feel almost impossible to overcome. But isolating inside an echo chamber can’t be the way to begin to heal.