HOUSTON – The social media platform Parler has been gaining in popularity since the summer but shot to the top of Android and Apple stores in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. According to a LinkedIn page, the site was created by Nevada based software engineer John Matze in 2018.
The site, however, has the financial backing of Rebekah Mercer. She is the daughter of billionaire hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, who was a prominent backer of President Donald Trump during his first run for office. In a statement issued on Parler, Rebekah Mercer stated her father has no involvement in the social media site.
“John 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. Benjamin Franklin warned us: “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” 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 wrote.
Well-known Conservative names like Ivanka Trump, Sean Hannity and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz created accounts, which are attracting millions of followers. Hashtags like “stop the cheat,” “Million Maga March” and “Maga 2020” are popular topics.
However, it is not just the conservative-leaning topics attracting new members.
“I saw the people around me jumping to Parler,” said mother and grandmother Dottie Laster. “They were feeling like they were being censored and monitored, and even monitored outside the social media platforms.”
Laster said Parler’s promise that users can “speak freely and express yourself openly” is enticing, as is the site’s pledge personal data is kept confidential and “never sold to third parties.”
“I do feel more comfortable not being monitored in my reading and my searches and things like that,” Laster said.
Privacy and moderation were among the main reasons some users are giving Parler a try. Below are a few email responses KPRC 2 received from viewers who recently joined Parler. Those who responded asked we only identify them by their first name.
“For now I’m not impressed but I will say it’s nice not to be censored or “fact-checked” according to someone else’s opinion,” Bettye wrote.
“Parler allows us to view information that FB and Twitter are blocking,” wrote Stephanie.
“Parler features respected conservative political pundits such as Dinesh DeSouza, Dan Bongino, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, among others. You can also find Prager U, OANN and NEWSMAX feeds on the Parler platform. You get news no longer found on FB. Facts come from several vetted and verified sources, not some so-called anonymous source,” wrote Liz.
“Myself, I have really grown not to respect or trust the (Mainstream Media) and Parler seems to be a place to get the whole story or a place to get a different view,” Charlie wrote.
“It allows an unadulterated exchange of ideas that I couldn’t find on Twitter and I’m finding increasingly less on Facebook,” said Michael Shiloh, a journalist for the TexasEnergyReport.com.
Shiloh said he feels Facebook and Twitter are overly scrutinizing independent journalists like himself and are too quick to label stories as “in dispute” without reading the entirety of an article.
“We don’t think that’s fair, so many of us trying to cover both sides of every story,” Shiloh said.
However, the director of graduate studies at the University of Houston’s School of Communication, Lindita Camaj, argues the site is just an echo chamber.
“When you have a platform where nobody is challenging each other’s views, it becomes a breeding ground for misinformation and conspiracy theories,” said Camaj. “What we are seeing so far is that Parler is not a platform for diversity of opinions.”
Camaj also argues Parler’s rise coincided with Facebook and Twitter’s increasing efforts to stop the spread of misinformation.
“What happened is, I think, caused an outcry, so to speak, from the right-wing ideology,” Camaj said.
Chair of Communication Studies at Texas Southern University, Dr. Toniesha Taylor said, just like news media, social media sites labeled either conservative or liberal only further fractures the national discussion.
“People are just running to those separate spaces without talking about why, and I think that’s probably the thing that I think we really need to start doing more of,” Taylor said.
Taylor said when discussions are had in these “separate spaces,” conversations tend to be more emotional than rational.
“What that has often equaled is a lot of volatile rhetoric,” Taylor said.
The Anti-Defamation League recently addressed the emergence of Parler’s popularity in a blog post.
“While the site itself is not extremist, extremists have joined Parler in large numbers alongside millions of mainstream users,” the post reads. “Creating the potential for extensive and worrying commingling of extremists and non-extremists.”
However, the users KPRC 2 spoke with said Parler is no different than other social media in that, you take from it what you want.
“I think you’re going to find what you want to see,” Laster said.
KPRC 2 tried to speak with officials at Parler but did not receive a response.