Parler is Silenced
The social media company Parler—which is a French word meaning “to speak”—was mugged and left for dead by Big Tech last week in what appears to be the start of a cultural offensive aimed at stifling conservative advocacy in our country’s public discourse.
I am shocked but not surprised. In my last column in these pages, I warned of a looming and authoritarian “corporatocracy” that threatened to stifle freedom in a way that our government never could. Little did I know that within a week of writing, behemoth social media companies would prove my words prophetic.
Here’s the story: After the godawful Capitol Hill riot of Jan. 6, Twitter and Facebook launched a cyber jack-booted crackdown on conservative advocacy. Not only did the social media giants cancel President Trump’s accounts, but Twitter appears to have launched a great purge.
Washington Examiner columnist Byron York, actor and conservative icon James Woods, and Fox News pundit Brett Hume, among many others, announced that they had each lost tens of thousands of followers on Twitter in just a few days. Similarly, less famous voices reported the loss of hundreds of followers.
Whatever is going on—Twitter hasn’t said—the company seems hellbent on stifling conservatives’ ability to communicate across the width and breadth of the social media public square.
Attacking a Competitor
The subsequent attack on Parler was even more egregious. Parler is a direct competitor of Twitter and operates in almost the exact manner; members post their thoughts or news articles, with “followers” able to comment and add the original posts to their own timelines.
Parler differs from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms in one important respect. It still follows the original concept of social media by allowing people to post without fact checking or political interference.
Because many conservatives reasonably believe that Twitter and Facebook moderate their platforms with a heavy leftwing bias, Parler came to be perceived on both the left and right as the “conservatives’ Twitter” (although the company has never so described itself). Indeed, many prominent conservative public intellectuals and “influencers” publicly moved their primary social media focus to Parler in recent months, inviting their supporters to follow.
In a sense, this was in keeping with the libertarian response to Twitter/Facebook’s liberal bias: These are private companies, the argument goes. If conservatives don’t want to be censored, start a conservative social media platform where you can post freely.
So much for that idea. At the same time Twitter was cracking down on conservative accounts, Google, Apple, and Amazon acted simultaneously to drive Parler out of business.
First, both Google—which services Android and other devices—and Apple removed Parler’s App from their online stores, declaring the company would be blackballed until Parler moderated posts.
That wounded but did not kill Parler because its customers could still access the site on the company’s website. Then Amazon—which hosted the company’s cloud services—announced that supposedly “violent content” on Parler’s site violated its terms of service and canceled its contracts with the company. As things now stand, Parler is offline, meaning it is dead as a social media company unless it can find alternative webhosting services.
John Matze, Parler CEO, told Maria Bartiromo on Morning Futures, that his company’s experience demonstrates that Big Tech “has the power to destroy anybody.” He’s right. Businesses, non-profit groups, and individuals all depend on websites, email, social media, and the like to fully engage in modern life. And those tools are almost wholly controlled by Big Tech.
It’s a real predicament. Speech is being significantly constrained by these companies for distinctly ideological reasons. But since the government isn’t doing it, the First Amendment isn’t infringed.
Google, Apple, and Amazon would seem to be violating anti-trust laws. But it is doubtful that the Biden administration will act against companies that are its great supporters.
Parler can always sue, and indeed, has announced its intention to seek legal redress. But the defendants are the richest and most powerful enterprises in the world, with enough clout and money to bankrupt the upstart company in motions and dilatory litigation tactics. In any event, such a case will take years.
Representative Devin Nunes has called for a racketeering investigation. Good luck with that. Democrats are now in complete control of Congress. I doubt the likes of Representative Jerrold Nadler, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, will even hold a hearing.
Conservatives could always try to shame the behemoth social media companies by calling them out publicly. But Big Tech is beyond shame. Besides, mass shaming requires the mainstream media to drive the story. How likely is that to happen? Indeed, many minions in the MSM are allies of Big Tech and are openly cheering.
What about a boycott? Given the centrality of these companies, that would be hard to do. Besides, Big Tech has made it very clear it is willing to lose profits in the great cause of woke.
It won’t stop with social media censorship. I expect these behemoths to soon move against controversial industries, just as they did Parler. For example, if internet cloud companies refused to do business with the gun industry it could drive manufacturers and sellers out of business—accomplishing a progressive agenda dream without violating the Second Amendment.
We suddenly face one of the most profound liberty crises in our country’s history, in some ways made more intractable because it emanates from the private sector instead of government. Freedom requires comity. Social harmony depends on everyone believing they have a fair shake.
Stifling speech will not eliminate conservative perspectives. Stomping liberal-disfavored industries or organizations will not convince those who hold such views that they are wrong, but rather, persuade them that they no longer have a stake in the great American experiment.
This is literally playing with fire. As history teaches, desperate people do desperate things. Here’s hoping Twitter, Amazon, Facebook and the rest gain wisdom commensurate with their power and reverse course before it is too late.