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The Right’s New Favorite Social Media Platform Parler Is Just as Restrictive as Twitter

The platform bans ‘fisticuffs’ but allows ‘buttock’

Image: Parler

Conservative internet personalities are migrating to Parler, a social media app created in 2018 that bills itself as a “non-biased free speech” platform. The wave of support follows Twitter’s recent decision to permanently suspend Logan Cook, a pro-Trump meme creator who goes by the moniker “CarpeDonktum” and was removed from the platform on Tuesday over repeated copyright violations.

But while Parler claims to promote “free expression,” a closer look at its guidelines reveals a set of rules that in many ways is just as restrictive, or even more so, than Twitter’s own terms of service.

Parler (pronounced “par-lay,” as in the French word meaning “to speak”) was founded by John Matze, a libertarian software developer in Nevada who briefly worked at Amazon, according to LinkedIn. It is functionally similar to Twitter, allowing people to follow other users and access a news feed akin to Twitter Moments but overwhelmingly populated by conservative pundits, politicians, and outlets like Zero Hedge and Epoch Times. Posts can be upvoted or downvoted and “echoed” rather than retweeted. Parler also features a built-in meme maker containing filters such as a “Breaking News” chyron. Matze claims the platform has roughly 1 million users, up from an estimated 100,000 last year.

Parler’s surges in popularity over the past two years have been mostly linked to the moderation of conservative figures on Twitter. Several months after its launch in August, Parler experienced a bump in users after far-right activist Laura Loomer and pro-Trump commentator Candace Owens were respectively banned and suspended by Twitter. Both Owens and Loomer joined Parler in 2018, along with other figures such as YouTube host Paul Joseph Watson, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. Matze has appeared on Fox News describing Parler as a haven for people who felt censored online. He added that only content containing “some sort of constitutional violation” would be moderated by the platform.

But a review of Parler’s community guidelines shows the platform has more in common with Twitter than its marketing implies.

Parler’s rules were updated sometime between 2019 and this year. As of July 2019, Parler’s community guidelines protected “offensive speech,” “hate speech ([that] is not considered obscene by the FCC),” and “fake news,” according to a previous version of its rules accessible on the Internet Archive. A vague chart comparing protected and prohibited content allows “dark humor” but discourages “fighting words.” Satire is permitted but not impersonation.

“We want to uphold the rights of free speech according to the U.S. Constitution; however, we also do not want user content to be so obscene that it undermines the core purpose of Parler as a platform for meaningful discussion,” these guidelines state. Parler cites the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of “obscenity,” which regulates on-air programming and has been invoked in recent complaints about mild nudity and profanity, drawing criticism from some First Amendment experts over the scope of its use.

Unlike Gab, another conservative platform that has attracted white supremacists in the wake of events like Charlottesville, Parler has kept a fairly low profile.

Parler’s current community guidelines are more specific and less permissive, and it’s unclear why the company’s rules were changed. Whereas it once allowed “fake news,” it now advises users to “not purposefully share rumors about other users/people you know are false.” Parler previously discouraged fighting words; it now clarifies that rule as “a personal assault with the intention of inviting the other party to fisticuffs.” (Fisticuffs being a somewhat outdated word for fistfight.) The platform prohibits nudity, including female nipples, specifically, and any form of genitalia. Parler does note, however, that “buttock is acceptable.”

For comparison, Twitter forbids images of female breasts, with the exception of breastfeeding. Twitter allows parody or satire accounts but similarly draws the line at impersonation. Much like Twitter’s policy that resulted in the labeling of President Trump’s tweet last month — “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote of protests in Minneapolis — Parler also discourages content that incites violence or produces a clear and present danger.

So far, none of these rules have been tested to the extent of Twitter’s guidelines. And unlike Gab, another conservative platform that has attracted white supremacists in the wake of events like Charlottesville, Parler has kept a fairly low profile. (All of this could change, however, if Parler manages to court President Trump, for whom Matze has preemptively reserved a handle.) But despite its free speech veneer and anti-moderation promises, Parler is, at present, merely a haven for Twitter social media castoffs.

Parler did not immediately respond to OneZero’s questions about its community guidelines.

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