Social media is in turmoil, especially in the United States. Changes in his regulations regarding hate speech have overturned the apparent impunity with which President Donald Trump tweets, posts on Facebook and Snapchat and releases videos on YouTube and Twitch. With the exception of Reddit, which has directly closed the channel of its 80,000 followers, the other platforms have chosen to eliminate or tag messages that incite violence, spread hate or lie.
The immediate reaction has been a boycott campaign on Twitter with #Twexit, as well as a massive exodus towards Parler, created two years ago by John Matze and far from any kind of notoriety until now. In just over a week, its users have surpassed 1.5 million – figures far removed from Facebook and Twitter, which add up to 175.4 million and 53.5 million users respectively in the United States alone, according to eMarketer.
The profile of these digital migrants, attracted by Matze’s motto of “no censorship”, fulfills a common pattern. Either they come from the political and family background of the White House tenant or they are grassroots followers, known as MAGA in reference to the slogan of the 2016 campaign: Make America Great Again. Republican senators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul; Eric Trump and Lara Trump; and communicators like Katie Hopkins, who was once kicked off Twitter for comparing immigrants to cockroaches, and Candace Owens have landed on Parler.
“If it stays as a network for the extreme right or alternative right, which is what they call themselves, with a more modern interface and only for their discussions, to stay there. It is only for your people and motivate them. Instead, on Twitter you reach a broader political spectrum. It makes more sense to use it to set the public discussion, ”explains Jon Worth, technology and political expert and professor at the College of Europe in Bruges.
At first glance, Parler does not show his ultra face. Some comments on Mery Trump’s latest book, conversations about the US economic situation … However, with a little dedication, xenophobic comments and the occasional political outburst appear. Hopkins equals movement Black Lives Matter with the violence he writes that white girls always pay the price for illegal immigration. “In general, social networks that only talk about politics do not last. The size of this platform is going to be what it is. It will not transcend, ”says Matt Stempeck, 2016 director of digital mobilization for the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Although it does not state it, Gab, created by Andrew Torba, is an example of another platform that, four years ago, wanted to become an alternative to Twitter due to the alleged lack of freedom. It quickly gained some popularity among neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups. Some of its users openly wrote their intentions to commit a massacre against a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Gab stayed on the road because, among other reasons, the provider of his servers stopped providing the service for inciting violence.
BitChute, with more than 25,000 subscribers, is another example of a network, in this audiovisual case, where the extreme right is hidden. It is part of those social circles outside the great technology. It is still possible to find in full the terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, – Facebook, where the terrorist began to broadcast live, erased any trace at the root – and all kinds of far-right propaganda. “They believe that freedom of expression is without consequence. It is their wrong view. The debate now is on how to deal with both published messages and digital protests, ”says Stempeck.
Doubts in the economic model
Economic viability is essential for Parler to transcend. It won’t do you any good to attract new users if the numbers don’t add up. It is precisely what Worth believes, that the model does not have the necessary wicker to compete against Twitter. The volume of data that it manages thanks to its hundreds of millions of users translates it into multimillion-dollar revenues through the sale of advertising. “In business terms, he is copying Twitter, but his numbers are at a sidereal distance. I think it will not work. Will it be an equivalent of Twitter? I would say no. This would change slightly if they incorporate people who are not only from the extreme right ”, ditch.
The open front against large platforms is part of their usual strategy of digital confrontation. An effective approach since 2016. Brexit, the rise of seats in parliaments around the world and the victory in Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro, who has recently opened a profile in Parler, illustrate such effectiveness. A further tightening of his speech, even abandoning traditional networks, is due to an attempt to condition companies. “It is the same thing that happens in soccer. If you constantly attack the referee, in the end it ends up compensating you in some way. Here is the same. They think they will have more space to speak and will be more benevolent with them, “says Stempeck.
Despite the fact that they have sought in the Matze project, 26, a shelter to spread their ideas, the founder himself has had to clarify on Twitter that there are minimum standards, such as not threatening anyone with death or using obscene user names . An almost unthinkable nuance days ago when he stated that in Parler you could say the same as in the streets of New York.
Part of these swings respond to the electoral campaign that the United States is facing, barely four months before the presidential elections. Parler has not yet jumped beyond the Atlantic. Only certain characters related to UKIP and BNP have changed platforms. Political groups such as Vox, Alternative for Germany, the Northern League or the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders maintain their loyalty to the usual giants. They are aware that the majority of citizens live there and can influence them more easily. “In Europe they may start using Parler, but in business terms it doesn’t make any sense for the company,” Worth concludes.