Parler: the alternative social network that's got America's right talking

·3-min read
The Parler app -- free to download for iOS and Android -- topped the download lists earlier this week.
The Parler app -- free to download for iOS and Android -- topped the download lists earlier this week.

Parler is the number one app in the USA right now. After Donald Trump's defeat in the US presidential election, the alternative social network popular with conservatives saw downloads soar on Apple and Android. Its success relies notably on a supposed "freedom of speech," behind which often lies unbridled racism. So what exactly is this platform that's proving popular with America's far right?

The Parler app -- free to download for iOS and Android -- topped the download lists, Monday, November 9, ahead of TikTok and Twitter. However, despite having almost 40,000 reviews on Google Play, the social network barely manages two out of five stars. Parler fares a little better on Apple's App Store, with an average 3.6 out of five stars and some 30,000 reviews. In June 2020, Parler was one of the most-downloaded apps in the "news" category. Two months later, the application already claimed almost 2.5 million downloads. According to the Sensor Tower website, the application was downloaded 200,000 times worldwide in October 2020.

The ideal post-election playground for America's alt-right

Co-created in 2018 by John Matze and Jared Thomson -- both IT graduates from the University of Denver -- the relatively little-known American social network found favor with Donald Trump. This global recognition led to an explosion in the number of downloads of the app, despite its controversial reputation.

With a design that's surprisingly similar to Twitter, Parler has a newsfeed with posts from accounts that users can follow. Users need a valid email address and a password to sign up, as well as a phone number, which, according to the cofounder, helps prevent the creation of fake accounts. The minimum age for users is 13, but no checks are made -- apart from when certifying accounts, where, like on other social networks, a copy of the user's ID is required. On Parler, there are votes instead of likes and echos instead of retweets or shares. Messages are called "parleys" and users can integrate emojis, GIFs or upload images to posts.

Described as a kind of echo chamber for the fascist world or a hangout for people banned from Twitter, Parler bills itself as a platform for free speech. "We, the people, don't want to be told what to think," 27-year-old John Matze is quoted as saying in French daily newspaper Libération in August 2020. Indeed, the site's members are given great freedom to share all kinds of information, which can sometimes relate to conspiracy theories, misinformation or be racist in nature. When interviewed by Forbes in June 2020, John Matze was asked about possible censoring of the "N-word" by the social network. The cofounder first said: "It depends on the context. If they just said that word alone, I don't think we would touch it," before backtracking slightly, "If somebody came on there and said the N-word to somebody, and they got very upset as a result of that, then it would get taken down." A host of media outlets, such as French news website Numerama, then exposed openly antisemitic and Islamophobic messages on the social network. In its conditions of use , the social network clearly states: "We will remove parleys or comments found to be defamatory by a court of law having jurisdiction over Parler. Otherwise, we will avoid making our own determinations about the truth or falsity of statements posted on Parler. " A policy that stands in total contrast to Facebook and Twitter, which have recently clamped down on misinformation. "There are going to be no fact-checkers. You're not going to be told what to think and what to say," John Matze told Forbes.

However, in the same interview, the CEO said that a specialist team would be on hand to help clean up "trolls," by which John Matze apparently meant the many teenage Democrats leftists who signed up after the Trump campaign threatened to quit Facebook and Twitter and decamp to Parler. This swathe of new users clearly doesn't sit well with the network's conservative user base.