Science & Tech

Parler was taken off the App Store and Google Play following the Jan. 6 insurection. Image: Dasser Kamran/The Fulcrum

U.S. CAPITOL INSURGENTS USED APPS LIKE PARLER TO PLAN RIOTS IN WASHINGTON D.C.

On Jan. 6, Americans from all over the country assembled in Washington, D.C. to storm the U.S. Capitol to fight the 2020 presidential election results. Two things connected these insurrectionists, the motive to overturn the election results and the app, Parler. 

Parler is a social media platform that was marketed as the ‘right wing’ solution to Twitter and embraced free speech. The rioters involved in the U.S. Capitol storm used the social media platform to create an echo chamber for conspiracy theories and anti-democratic beliefs.

In the aftermath of the riot, Jared Holt, a research fellow from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), wrote a fact sheet about these riots explaining that live streams were how insurrectionists bragged about the chaos they created. They reached like-minded individuals through platforms like Parler, MeWe, Zello, and Telegram. 

Holt writes that before the riots, “extremists repeatedly stated their desire for chaos and destruction at January 6 protests in Washington” on Parler. Holt also writes that this plot “was organized [by insurrectionists through] online coordination and planning.” 

University of Ottawa professor Bertrand Labasse, who focuses his research on the “psychosociology of media uses and practices,” explained his theory behind why these fringe groups gained so much popularity.

“For individuals who are alone on the political fringes, it feels great to find a group with which they can separate from the masses,” said Labasse. “Fringe members enjoy the feeling that they belong to an enlightened elite.” 

In short, Labasse explained that it is somewhat influenced by the social capital that it awards members. Users on the political fringe enjoy apps like Parler because they can easily find people who will blindly support their beliefs.

According to U of O communications professor Marcel Chartrand, former U.S. president Donald Trump had a big impact in the ‘media revolution’ and is also responsible for bringing fringe groups together online. 

“Trump brought all of these people together. And then gave them a voice,” said Chartrand.

“These political orphans see themselves in Trump: an anti-establishment and anti-Washington politician who is sympathetic to white supremacists, racists, and bigots.”

And, according to Chartrand, “with social media, [Trump] assembled fringe groups under a single ideology” which is characterized by the acceptance of all forms of hatred. 

“Now, right-wingers who have political ambitions in congress and in the senate are trying to hang-on to Trump’s base. However, they will not be as successful as Trump was because they do not have the same talents that Trump has for firing-up his base in the dismantling of democracy,” said Chartrand.

What happened to Parler?

In the aftermath of the riots on Jan. 8, representatives at Apple wrote to founder and CEO, John Matze Jr., with an ultimatum in response to the events at the Capitol. 

In the letter, Apple said it would ban Parler from the App Store if it did not produce a plan of action to dispel dangerous discourse from the platform.

Apple also said they, “received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content [on Parler].” This includes, “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. […] that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property.” And Parler, “appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.”

Parler could not provide the information required within Apple’s twenty-four hour deadline and was subsequently removed from the App Store. 

On Jan. 10, Matze defended Parler on Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures and said that his company has “never allowed violence” on Parler. He also said his company is not responsible for the U.S. Capitol’s insurrection because the app does not “have a way to coordinate an event.” 

The next day, Matze released a statement citing Parler as a “place of open dialogue and discussion where [users] work to move past the anger and hostility that seems to be consuming our otherwise civil society.” 

As a result of Apple’s decision, other big tech companies that supported Parler were quick to address its terms of service issues. 

For example, Google removed the app from their stores on Jan. 10, and on Jan. 11 Amazon barred Parler’s access to its internet services. 

According to one of Amazon’s attorneys, Ambika Doran, Amazon had no choice but to, “stop hosting Parler on company servers after the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol.” During a hearing in a U.S. District Court in Seattle Doran said that the content shared on Parler included violent and discriminatory rhetoric. For this reason, Amazon could no longer support the app. 

Even though Parler is dismantled, this does not mean that people have stopped engaging in violent rhetoric online. 

As Jared Holt, the research fellow at DFRLab writes in his report, “the far-right groups that appeared at the riot maintain a vigorous online presence.” 

Chartrand shares the same outlook.

“Fringe groups will resurrect on other platforms […] and in the future there will be other platforms on which fringe groups can gather.”