Who Owns Parler? Social Media Platform Offers Safe Space for the Far Right

Social network Parler is pitched as a free speech-focused alternative to Facebook and Twitter—and it is increasingly being adopted by the far right.

Since its founding in 2018 by two men based in Henderson, Nevada—John Matze and Jared Thomson—the platform is now attracting a variety of right-wing commentators, politicians and Donald Trump supporters, while also providing a safe haven for anyone too extreme, racist or offensive for Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Like Gab before it, Parler is filled with the posts of those who have been removed or suspended from mainstream social platforms for violating their guidelines.

It describes itself as a "free speech driven entity" and claims not to share data with third parties, saying: "We are not regulators. We are not governors. We are a community. Parler accepts your right to express your thoughts, opinions and ideals online."

Matze and Thomson said they created the platform after becoming "exhausted with a lack of transparency in big tech [and] ideological suppresssion."

This week, chatter about Parler spiked after a meme-maker whose content was shared by president Trump last week was suspended from Twitter for copyright violations.

On Tuesday, Twitter flagged one of the president's posts for abusive behavior after previously hiding a tweet for breaking its rules on "glorifying violence."

The incidents were cited by some Twitter users as motivation for moving to Parler, which had already become the social media home of far right commentator Katie Hopkins after she was booted from the Jack Dorsey-led website last Friday.

Hopkins is far from alone on Parler, which prominently advertises users including Eric Trump, Laura Loomer and Rudy Giuliani. They are jointed by Brad Parscale, Milo Yiannopolous, Gavin McInnes, Brad Parscale, Alex Jones, Tommy Robinson and Jacob Wohl. Devin Nunes has been repeatedly promoting Parler on Twitter this week.

Picture for those who remain in Twitter Hell. Parler is open for business! https://t.co/0uPdKYiz5b

— Devin Nunes (@DevinNunes) June 24, 2020

Spearheaded by Parscale, Trump's 2020 re-election campaign has an account under the handle Team Trump, although the president himself is absent for now.

Many of the bigger profiles appear to have significant audiences. Loomer, for example, boasts 341,000 followers, Eric Trump has 396,000, while Giuliani has 322,000.

According to Forbes, the platform claims to have more than one million users. Parler did not respond to a request for comment from Newsweek asking for statistics.

The layout of Parler is similar to Twitter, using "echoes" instead of retweets and letting other accounts tip or "upvote" posts they like, much like Reddit's comment section. A variety of popular hashtags is seen in the top corner of the main page.

When signing up, Newsweek was given the option of personalizing a profile by following websites including Breitbart News, The Epoch Times and the Daily Caller.

Who owns and runs Parler?

According to his LinkedIn page, Parler co-founder Matze has a background in software engineering, including a three month stint at Amazon Web Services in 2017. Matze has a degree in computer science from the University of Denver, the profile says.

Thomson, who is listed as the chief technology officer and backend software engineer at Parler, worked at CarePICS between 2016 and 2018, after three months at a firm called Travelport. He too has a University of Denver computer science degree.

It remains unclear how Parler will enforce its own community guidelines, which say that accounts could be terminated for copyright infringement, for example.

Users must agree to avoid spamming, support for terrorist organizations, unsolicited ads, defamation, threats to harm, blackmail, porn, obscenity, intellectual property theft, doxxing, criminal solicitation and plagiarism, according to the guidelines.

"Parler may remove any content and terminate your access to the services at any time and for any reason or no reason, although Parler endeavors to allow all free speech that is lawful and does not infringe the legal rights of others," the rules say.

For now, it remains to be seen how strict enforcement will be, or if the account holders will adhere to similar rules they previously violated on mainstream platforms.

It seems unlikely the platform's owners will take a similar approach to enforcement as Facebook or Twitter, however. Recently the company released a "Declaration of Internet Independence," urging people to abandon Twitter using the hashtag #Twexit.

An open letter fumed: "Twitter once pledged to be a public square, where all peaceful voices were promised respect and equal right to be heard."

"The people propelled Twitter to a position of great prominence. But absolute power corrupts absolutely. And Twitter has proven no different... they are now merely a publisher. And a bad, biased publisher at that. They have become a tech tyrant, stepping on our freedoms to push their agenda driven narrative," it added.

This week, responding to media criticism of the platform, Matze praised coverage from Infowars, the conspiracy-fueled site spearheaded by radio host Alex Jones.

Matze wrote: "I'm not... upset by their fake news. This is a sign that we the freedom loving people are winning. We are winning because they are resorting to throwing a tantrum because those they politically disagree with have a voice again."

According to the App Store, Parler is currently the second most popular download in the News category. It has more than 100,000 downloads via the Google Play Store.

Trump phones
People photograph Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump with their smart phones as he speaks to guests during a campaign rally at the Gerald W. Kirn Middle School on January 31, 2016 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Christopher Furlong/Getty

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