Parler, the social media network that describes itself as the “world’s premier free speech platform,” which is apparently another way to say a space for misinformation and conspiracy theories like QAnon, is unsurprisingly backed by conservative megadonor Rebekah Mercer, the Wall Street Journal has found.
In a Saturday report, the Journal stated that Mercer was the lead investor in the social media company at its onset and that her support was contingent on Parler allowing users to control what they see. On its website, Parler boasts that it allows its users to “moderate [their] own world,” or customize what they want or do not want to see in their own feed while letting others decide for themselves what they want to see. Mercer has been a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump and other conservative causes.
Before Mercer’s involvement was disclosed, few of its investors were known to the public. Nonetheless, we did have some inkling. Fox News commentator Dan Bongino and angel investor Jeffrey Wernick, who is the company’s COO, have publically disclosed that they are backers.
In a post on Parler, Mercer appeared to go beyond saying she was just giving the social media platform money, describing herself as a co-founder. Parler was launched in 2018.
“[Parler CEO] John [Matze] and I started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended, and also to create a social media environment that would protect data privacy,” Mercer wrote on Parler on Saturday. “The ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining, and for the protection of free speech online. That someone is Parler, a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy.”
Mercer also stated that her father, billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer, did not have ownership or involvement in Parler.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, the subject of many conservatives’ ire, Parler doesn’t use content recommendation algorithms on its platform. This means that Parler doesn’t customize a user’s feed based on their preferences or based on what’s trending at the moment, per the Journal. Instead, Parler simply shows users everything from people they follow in reverse chronological order. The social media platform collects almost no data from its users, per the Journal.
The platform itself doesn’t take care of any content moderation. This is done by users themselves via filters and by volunteer users called “community jurors,” who primarily remove spam, threats or illegal activity.
Parler has experienced a tremendous surge in downloads following the U.S. presidential election, which makes sense considering many conservatives are mad at major social media platforms for trying to do good for once and crack down on election misinformation and allegations of imaginary voter fraud.
In the last week, it has taken the top spot on Apple and Google’s app stores. The Journal found that the platform’s user base more than doubled to 10 million in less than a week.
“People from all walks of life, fed up with opaque, biased content curation, inconsistent agenda-driven fact checking, and manipulative algorithms built on data mining, are joining Parler to speak free,” Matze said in a Nov. 10 letter to users announcing the surge in growth. “Facebook and Twitter’s suppression of election information was a catalyst, causing many people to lose their trust. But the movement away from these platforms was already well underway.”
What kind of stuff can you find on Parler? If you think about the people or groups that have been kicked off or stirred up a storm on mainstream social media apps, you can get a pretty good idea. According to the Anti-Defamation League—which points out that although the platform is not an extremist platform, it hosts a “significant and growing” number of users with mostly right-wing extremist ideologies—extremists with large followings on Parler include the anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer, InfoWars’ “Stop the Steal Caravan” with Owen Shroyer, the terroristic Proud Boys movement and QAnon conspiracy theorists.
Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told CNN that Parler could possibly normalize radical views by exposing non-extremists to them.
“If a lot of people start migrating onto a platform to hear the Laura Ingrahms and Sean Hannitys, but are getting a steady dose of Proud Boys ... that may normalize the fringes in a way that normally it wouldn’t,” Segal said.
The platform is currently free to use, although it doesn’t generate much revenue, per Business Insider. Its CEO, Matze, has said that Parler plans to sell advertising focused specifically on influencers to make money. Advertisers will target influencers and their followings, Matze told CNBC in July, instead of the social media network itself.
There is no guarantee that Parler will continue growing, or even if it’ll be around in the future. However, the fact that a social media platform that doesn’t take action on posts with blatant misinformation or hateful views exists is chilling. Truth is one of the most important things we have in this world: It helps us learn, grow and make informed decisions. But what happens to those who ignore the truth and purposefully surround themselves with hate and lies?