MAGA-approved social media platform Parler is taken down — but its demise may be short-lived

Hacked data from the (temporarily?) defunct site may help law enforcement identify perpetrators of the Capitol Riot

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 11, 2021 6:56PM (EST)

An user trying to open Parler social network App in L'Aquila, Italy, on January 11, 2021. French Social network has been closed. Amazon, Apple and Google have all booted it from their platforms in a span of a little more than 24 hours. (Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
An user trying to open Parler social network App in L'Aquila, Italy, on January 11, 2021. French Social network has been closed. Amazon, Apple and Google have all booted it from their platforms in a span of a little more than 24 hours. (Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Parler, a so-called "free speech" social media platform that is popular among President Donald Trump's supporters and others on the far-right, went down on Sunday after Apple and Google removed the company's app from their services and Amazon Web Services refused to continue hosting it.

But its demise may be short-lived, as a Washington State-based web hosting company called Epik has evidently agreed to host the site. Epik serves as a safe haven for other far right sites, such as the notorious right-leaning social network Gab.

Amazon, Apple and Google all cited the same reason for their decisions to ban Parler — namely, that the company was not doing enough to police language that incites violence. The recent riot inside the US Capitol incited by Trump supporters and QAnon conspirators, many of whom had Parler presences, appears to have been a tipping point for the big tech companies to unify against the site.

Parler is now suing Amazon, claiming that Amazon breached their contract in terminating their service and engaged in anticompetitive behavior. In a statement responding to Parler's announcement that it plans on suing, a spokesperson for Amazon said: "It is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which is a violation of our terms of service."

Many social media users on the right and far-right moved to Parler after becoming disenchanted with the moderation policies of sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon. Parler CEO John Matze claimed in a statement that the Big Tech companies were acting in a "coordinated effort" to "completely remove free speech off the internet." Right-wing commentator and Parler investor Dan Bongino claimed without evidence that Fox News that the right-leaning network could be stifled and insisted that the companies' actions would further radicalize the far right. Fox News host Jeanine Pirro compared the companies' decisions to Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews carried out by Nazis in 1938 as a precursor to the Holocaust.

As Salon's Nicole Karlis reported last week, Parler is host to a lot of incendiary rhetoric and false claims that support Trump's political agenda. These include posts (or "parleys") from white nationalists, comments advocating for violence unless Trump is allowed to stay in power and baseless claims that Biden stole the 2020 election. Parler users also called for "punishing" Vice President Mike Pence for not overturning the election results (which he does not have the power to do), calling for members of the media to be "tied" up or doxxed and argued that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "should be arrested and hung for treason" for blocking Trump's account. Others urged Trump to create an account on the platform, since the president was kicked off of Twitter on Friday for inciting his supporters to violence.

Currently, typing the site into one's web browser leads to an error, meaning that it does not yet redirect to a new hosting service.

Even if it does not ever return, Parler's data archive is poised to be used to help ID some of the rioters at the Capitol last week. A hacker who goes by @donk_enby was able to archive roughly 99 percent of the content from Parler before it was kicked offline, much of which she described as "very incriminating" against the people who posted it. She explained to Gizmodo that she began by downloading every Parler post from January 6, the day that Trump fomented a coup attempt in Washington which culminated in the Capitol Riot. She is believed to have reverse-engineered Parler's iOS app to find a web address that the company uses to retrieve data on an internal level, later deciding to archive every post that appeared on the site after Amazon said it would no longer serve as a host.

"Unlike many other systems, Parler requires users to provide a photocopy of identification (typically a state driver's license) in order to be 'verified' on the site," former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security Paul Rosenzweig wrote for Lawfare on Monday. "This ID, along with all of the metadata for Parler posts—such as geo tags for images, IP addresses for posters and so on—was available to Parler administrators. Likewise, the actual content of Parler posts—videos, texts, and such—was also available in plain view format to administrators." He pointed out that anyone who used Parler to plan, commit or record crimes during the Capitol Riot could be implicated due to the hack, since it would "in the hands of law enforcement, be a treasure trove of leads and, ultimately, of digital forensic evidence that would be useful in proving individual criminal guilt."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Aggregate Amazon Apple Capitol Riot First Amendment Free Speech Google Parler