In the latest round of Big Tech censorship, social media app Parler fell victim. On Jan. 9, Google and Apple removed Parler from their app stores. At around the same time, numerous QAnon-associated accounts on platforms including Facebook and Twitter were also banned.
Parler was founded in 2018 and gained popularity as a promising right-wing alternative to Twitter when bigger tech platforms started banning users. After some time, Parler became a right-wing alternative to Twitter due to increasing censorship. The platform provided a place where many users could find like-minded people to discuss a variety of political or social topics.
It should be clear that the owners of Parler in no way advocate for having only right-wing politics on their platform. The company has stated previously that they would love for more liberal users to join the app. If left-wing users were to create accounts, then perhaps the app would never have received the label of being right-wing. With more left-wing users, Parler could very well become a bright alternative to Twitter for political discussion.
But as of today, conservatives dominate Parler's user base. This conservative base is not the entire reason the app was banned, but I have no doubt that if the app primarily consisted of mainstream Republicans and at least some form of moderate liberal base, Parler would still be on app stores. The problem is a lot of the more conspiratorial right-wing personalities have joined the app and tried to peddle their extremely troubling views.
Officially, Google claimed they removed Parler from their Play Store because the app failed to remove posts inciting violence. Apple gave a similar response. It seems Google and Apple have no place for incitement of violence on their platforms, and if this is indeed what they believe in as a company, then I respect that. However, in America we have an inherent respect for the value of free speech. Although Americans disagree with each other quite regularly, that does not mean they want their opposition censored or silenced. Google and Apple have every right to ban Parler, but freedom of speech should prevail, even when groups make statements that are wrong and hurtful.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg stated the Capitol riot was “largely” not organized on her platform. However, the left-wing group Media Matters decided to challenge the claim of Facebook having little to do with organizing for the Capitol riot in Washington, D.C. Media Matters found evidence that rioters organized trips to the capital on Facebook, showing Facebook did have some level of involvement in the events. Additionally, The Wall Street Journal found the groups section of the Facebook app has been hosting individuals who have been calling for violence long before the events at the Capitol. Even if Parler did indeed host very similar people who were involved with the terrible riot at the Capitol, should only Parler be banned?
With growing claims that rioters organized on Parler, the company has been working hard on communicating with authorities. Recently, Parler helped the FBI locate a suspect who had been stockpiling ammunition and threatened to kill an elected U.S. senator. Although this work with the FBI happened after Parler was banned, it is proof that Parler is willing to help authorities get criminals off of its platform. If working with the FBI is not a prime example of Parler going above and beyond to make sure its platform is in compliance with the government, then perhaps the Googles of the world should provide clear guidance that describes what “proper moderation” is.
I am sure there is a very good case to be made that some bad actors incited violence on Parler, and if these bad actors committed crimes, then they should definitely be prosecuted. If specific users are found to be committing a crime, then they should be punished. However, it is a giant burden to say Parler must moderate its platform, which was founded on free speech. Even if Parler fails in banning the proper bad actors, Parler must not be deplatformed.
I know from personal experience there are a lot of people who use Parler to simply communicate with other conservatives, and the use of the app to talk with like-minded people is okay. Even if Parler, Twitter or the others fail to moderate their platforms, they should not get banned. While Google and Apple reserve the right to ban from their app stores whomever they please, companies like Parler should not be punished when allowing less strict moderation.
Bryce Robinson is a business administration sophomore and opinion writer for The Battalion.