Controversial social media platform Parler has topped app downloads in the United States following Joe Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump.
The app pitches itself as an “unbiased” social media platform that safeguards free speech, eschews fact checking, and rails against the “ideological bias” of Silicon Valley giants Facebook and Twitter.
But critics have slammed Parler as a cesspool of extreme far-right views and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, and a vehicle for dangerous misinformation and disinformation.
Before Mr Biden’s victory speech Parler did not rank in the top 10 of free app downloads in the US for either iPhone or Android users according to rankings site SensorTower.
On the iPhone charts, Parler surged nearly 300 places to take the No.1 spot on November 8, where it has remained since.
On the Android charts, Parler has been at No.1 since November 9, and has now been downloaded more than 3.6 million times in the US according to SensorTower.
Swinburne University digital media expert Belinda Barnet attributed the spike in downloads to Trump supporters struggling to accept the US election results.
“Parler is a complete cesspool of misinformation,” Dr Barnet said.
“But that said, a certain type of person is attracted to the platform in the first place, and they are probably already convinced that vaccines don’t work, or that Donald Trump is fighting a cabal of pedophiles.”
Parler users “are generally right-wing types, and have often in the past, been kicked off Twitter or kicked off Facebook or kicked off YouTube for their views,” Dr Barnet explained.
“After the result of the US election, which many of them still refuse to accept, I think they’re probably feeling even more disenfranchised than they were before,” she said.
Twitter and Facebook have actively clamped down on US election misinformation and disinformation, but Parler has not.
“Parler is a platform that supports what they call freedom of expression, which means not stopping lies, or fact checking in the way that, for example, Twitter has been doing during the election period, particularly with Donald Trump,” Dr Barnet explained.
“For them it represents a certain freedom in a world where they feel very disenfranchised by this approach of trying to combat and stamp out misinformation that we see on the major platforms.”
What is Parler?
Parler bills itself as “the world’s town square”, and a “privacy-focused” platform that upholds freedom of speech.
“Speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views”, the platform’s website says.
The app’s name comes from the French verb “parler”, which means “to talk”, and the platform functions in a similar way to Twitter albeit with a 1000-character post limit compared to Twitter’s 280.
Parler was launched in 2018 by co-founders John Matze and Jared Thomson in response to “a lack of transparency in big tech, ideological suppression and privacy abuse”.
“There are going to be no fact checkers. You’re not going to be told what to think and what to say,” Mr Matze told Forbes earlier this year.
“A police officer isn’t going to arrest you if you say the wrong opinion.
“I think that’s all people want. That’s what they like.”
Curtin University associate professor of internet studies Tama Leaver said Parler provides an “alternative, non-policed space” for people to “have the sort of conversations that Twitter and Facebook are increasingly saying are not something that their platforms can support without at least labelling it as misinformation”.
If your social media experience at the moment was Parler, you would believe that Donald Trump had won the election legitimately, and that the lawsuits that he and his team are pushing forward will be successful,” Dr Leaver said.
The platform is a safe space for “the sort of conversations that have been pushed further and further away from mainstream social media platforms but exist as the mainstay of what’s on Parler,” Dr Leaver said.
“It’s a great space for misinformation and disinformation to breed, because it’s self-reinforcing.”
Unbiased social media?
Although Parler pitches itself as an “unbiased social media” platform, user experience tells a different story.
Upon signing up to the platform, Parler users are instantly pushed to follow a slew of exclusively right-wing pundits, commentators and political figures.
New users are encouraged to “personalise” their “Parler Experience” by following accounts including those of Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who has more than 2.6 million followers, and Fox News personalities including shock jocks Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
On Tuesday, Levin took to the platform to urge followers to abandon established social media platforms for Parler.
“I’m trying to encourage as many of you as possible to immediately join me there as I may not stay at Facebook or Twitter if they continue censoring me. And one day I’ll have to leave their platforms,” Levin wrote in a post seen by more than three million people just hours after he posted it.
“Parler is a wonderful alternative and is growing, and we need you there ASAP. It believes in truly open speech.”
Other popular users of the platform include the founder of far-right group the Proud Boys, and Eric Trump.
In Australia, Morrison government MP George Christensen stirred up controversy earlier this year with a Parler post comparing Australia’s biggest trading partner, China, to Nazi Germany.
Mr Christensen’s comment was posted only to Parler and not shared on his Facebook page.