62ºF

Parler, free speech and the role of big tech

HOUSTON – After a steady rise in popularity, the social media site Parler disappeared over the course of a weekend. Many media analysts view what happened to the site as a test case for shaping what role big tech may play in policing speech on the internet.

Google and Apple booted Parler from their app stores and Amazon removed the site from its cloud hosting service; cutting off its access to the internet. Parler was founded in 2018 but exploded in popularity in the run-up to the 2020 election. The site hosted mainly conservative views and promised users their opinions would not be censored.

“We’re having a lot of trouble because every vendor we to says if Apple doesn’t approve and Google doesn’t approve, they won’t,” Parler CEO John Matze told Fox Business News.

Users of the site were quick to label these moves as akin to communism.

“You know I’ve never lived under Communism, but it certainly feels like what was described to me back in the 70s when I was a child,” Dottie Laster said.

Laster said she is uncomfortable with large tech companies involved in decisions on what is allowed speech. She argues sites that have hosted offers of prostitution and human trafficking don’t get shut down, rather the offending users are banned, posting restrictions are tightened and better policed.

“So now we can shut things down for things we don’t like? I wish that we had chosen to do that when people were being exploited,” Laster said.

Parler has long been criticized for not doing enough to clamp down on posts that call for and incite violence, as well as spread misinformation about the election. However, KPRC 2 Legal Analyst Brian Wice said free speech only applies to the government, not private business.

“Is this decision on their part political? Absolutely. Is it illegal? Absolutely not,” Wice said. " It’s basically saying, ‘We’re private, we’re not Congress and we can enforce our own guidelines.’”

Director of graduate studies at the University of Houston’s school of communication, Lindita Camaj, said given the events of Jan. 6, what’s happening to Parler is not surprising. She said many tech companies faced intense scrutiny for not doing more to stop the spread of misinformation in the run-up to the 2016 election.

“They don’t want to be associated in any way with people or groups who have called for action, who have been involved, or were involved in the capitol insurgency,” Camaj said.

Gov. Greg Abbott also decried the move, Tweeting it was “hostile” to free speech.

Chairman of the Texas GOP, Allen West, also released the following statement:

“It is of grave concern to me that four generations in my family have fought to preserve individual constitutional liberties and freedoms, such as freedom of speech. And yet, these technocratic secular fascists have decided to end them for certain Americans. The ruthless nature of the progressive socialist left is on full display, that is undebatable.”

Matze has filed suit against Amazon, accusing the company of violating anti-trust laws and breach of contract.