Amid controversy over social media sites like Facebook and Twitter flagging misinformation or banning members for violating platform policies, an alternative social network is gaining in popularity.
Parler has topped the charts on app stores, but what is it and how different is it from larger and more recognizable social media platforms?
What Is Parler?
While you may not have heard of Parler until fairly recently, the social media site has been around since 2018. To be kind, it's probably named after the French verb meaning "to speak" rather than a misspelling of "parlor."
The platform, which calls itself "the world's premier free speech platform", is built on the idea that social media sites shouldn't interfere with users' expression of their views. It's basically billing itself as an alternative social network, but there are plenty of other alternative social networks around.
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"Biased content curation policies enable rage mobs and bullies to influence community guidelines," explains Parler's Values page. "Parler's viewpoint-neutral policies foster a community of individuals who tolerate the expression of all non-violent ideas."
Parler does have what it refers to as a "Community Jury" to enforce their community guidelines based on "fair and just legal precedent". However, it's unclear exactly how this jury actually works.
In its guidelines, Parler also reserves the right to remove a user's content or ban them from the platform "at any time for any reason".
The site does give users a wide variety of tools to control the content they see. This includes blocking users or filtering out posts with certain keywords. Parler positions this as a way that you can moderate your own world while not interfering with the general content on the platform.
Parler is not just about free speech, however. The platform also competes with other social media sites by promising to never sell user data, something that other social media platforms are infamous for.
It also has a special "Parler Citizen Verification" process to prevent bots---but, our experience of the platform brings the effectiveness of this verification into doubt.
However, we did need to fill out a Captcha and enter a security code sent to our mobile phone every time we logged in.
How Does Parler Work?
Functionally speaking, Parler works similarly to other social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Users are provided with recommended people and topics to follow while they populate and curate their own news feeds. You can also reshare content, with these shares dubbed "echoes" on Parler.
The site allows the posting of photos and GIFs, as well as videos from YouTube. Though, the majority of users that we encountered during our time on the site almost exclusively posted links to external sites.
There are a couple of unique aspects to the site as well. Profiles have a "Badge Selection" page, suggesting that there is a gamification element that rewards users for various actions on the site.
There is also one section of your profile that tracks "points," "violations," and "violation points". This doesn't seem to be explained anywhere on the site.
One can guess that it works similarly to points on a driver's license. Perhaps it plays into the similarly mysterious Community Jury system.
Who Is Parler For?
According to Parler's onboarding pages and advertorial information, the site is "here to help people with varying life experiences and from all walks of life communicate on a platform which treats them as equals".
Despite its claims to openness, diversity, and inclusion, the site has a decidedly conservative feel due in no small part to its largely far-right userbase. While most of the users on the platform might be cut from similar cloth, there's nothing in the way that the website is set up and run that necessarily privileges any given group.
However, it should be noted that when we created a profile the first two notifications we received were welcome messages; one from Parler Support and one from a Team Trump account.
Why Are People Flocking to Parler?
The question remains: why are people flocking to Parler? Parler has spiked in popularity, especially following the 2020 US election.
Generally, it seems to be the case that people are flocking to Parler in order to post things that would either get flagged on other social media platforms or get them banned. Meanwhile, others are protesting the community guidelines and policies of mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Some users are doing this in the true spirit of Parler. They post opinions or news stories that sites like Facebook and Twitter would take down, or at least flag with a misinformation warning. They may also be drawn by simply having an alternative to Twitter or Facebook when it comes to concerns like data privacy.
Unfortunately, some users (whether AI bots or human trolls) seem to be using Parler's attitude of acceptance and its recent popularity as a platform for spam. The interesting thing will be to watch whether the platform tightens the reins a little on these bots and trolls for the sake of its genuine users.
While there's a lot to be said for not kicking anyone off for things like political disagreements, the platform may have to flex its muscles a little more if it wants to keep its actual users happy. As bad as having voter information tacked onto your post might be, scrolling through pages and pages of lewd photos to read the news might be worse.
Will You Sign up to Parler?
Parler's stated intentions to provide a "public square" for free discourse is hardly an idea to be afraid of. Unfortunately, it may be becoming an echo chamber for people to amplify claims and misinformation that wouldn't be supported by other platforms.
If you like arguing about politics on Facebook and Twitter, Parler may be a place for you to find a community of strong-willed people open to honest discourse. The site is free to explore. But until it gets things sorted a little better, you might want to log in using a secure web browser.
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