One of the questions I’ve been asking a lot over the past few years has been whether the rise of a large-scale conservative social network – Fox News of Facebook – is inevitable. Last year, as Parler climbed, we finally got a good test case.
This was an app backed by the Mercer family, which has previously advocated for Breitbart News, Donald Trump and Cambridge Analytica, among other conservative reasons. It was relentlessly promoted by conservative media figures, including Sean Hannity, Mark Levine, and Dan Bongeno.
It has arrived amid a contentious election in which responsible moderation has taken place in the content of the major platforms – the labeling and removal of disinformation; Promoting reliable information about how to vote – many conservatives have criticized it as outrageous censorship and/or interference with the democratic process.
Then came the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Parler was filled with calls for violence leading up to and during the uprising, and in keeping with the platform’s “free speech” ethos, most were allowed to stand. Apple responded by removing it from the App Store; Google followed later.
By May, Parler had fired its CEO, beefed up its content moderation practices, and returned to app stores. But, as Sarah Fisher mentioned in Axios Last week, the suspense seemed to be over. According to data from Sensor Tower, Parler’s downloads rose from 517,000 in December to 11,000 in June. It’s part of a general decline in the popularity of alternative platforms – and in conservative media in general – since former President Trump left office.
At the height of election fever, Parler had a moment. But it seems that the moment is over.
Parler’s fading has not deterred other conservatives from trying to build something similar. Thursday, Politico It reported that former members of Trump’s team were behind Gettr, an app whose stated mission is to “fight the culture of cancellation, promote common sense, defend free speech, challenge social media monopolies, and create a true market for ideas.”
This is more or less what Parler set out to do. (Like Parler, Gettr is also a Twitter clone.) But Gettr, by virtue of not being used to help coordinate a violent anti-government insurgency, started with a clean slate.
The board remained clean…a few minutes. It soon became apparent that despite the involvement of former Trump spokesperson Jason Miller, Trump himself had no intention of actually joining Gettr. Meanwhile, multiple hashtags containing racist and anti-Semitic slurs have hit the app’s trends section, according to Recodeand multiple reports found a torrent of pornography. (sonic the hedgehog Porn, in particular.)
An increasing number of accounts on Jason Miller’s new right-wing “Gettr” posting “Sonic the Hedgehog furry porn” have been banned from the platform – and now there’s a push among left-wing users to say that “porn is protected by the First Amendment”.
Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) July 6, 2021
Then Daily Beast You mentioned that the whole thing was financed by a fugitive Chinese billionaire. Then Gettr source code found out in the open. Then salon You mentioned that a bug allowed hackers to download the personal information of Anyone who has created an account on the site.
Everything is going so poorly that you almost wonder if the app’s founders intended it that way, Ryan Broderick, co-host of Sidechannel, wrote in rubbish today:
I’ve also started to wonder if all of these apps are serving them in some way. Loudly launch a site no one will ever use pretend it’s a free-speech haven for Republicans Make the rounds on all the right-wing news outlets Wait until they’re filled with the worst people on Earth Refuse to edit it Wait until Apple bans it from the App Store Then go back to the news outlets Right-wing and talk about the liberal abolitionist culture that affects your ability to share hentai with white landlords or something else.
When I first read this paragraph, I assumed Ryan was exaggerating a point. Given the highly predictable turmoil that has arisen from Gettr’s content policies, I’m wondering if there’s nothing to this: a social network with a false flag, created just to watch it burn to the ground.
But let’s say it’s not all about ready-to-wear. What should we take away from the Gettr disaster and the Parler disaster before that?
Lots of questions about social networks are tough. This is not so. If you create a place for people to upload text and images, you have to aggressively coordinate and supervise it. You have to draw solid lines; You have to change these lines as society develops and your opponents adapt; You have to accept the difficult trade-offs between users’ well-being and their right to express themselves.
Apps like Parler and Gettr have presented their conservative users with an attractive mirage: a free-speech paradise where they can say things they can’t say elsewhere. No one would have thought that such a move would only select the worst social media clients on earth, and soon the founders’ dreams were turned to ashes.
In a sane world, the next generation of conservative founders will take for granted that they will have to monitor their apps for racism, dangerous misinformation, and other harms. In return, they can use their editorial discretion to promote their favorite culture warriors, manipulate trending topics as they like, and perhaps even attract enough advertisers to make the whole thing financially viable.
Active moderation of content is certainly a necessary but not sufficient condition for the operation of a viable platform. Even if Parler and Jeter have completely distanced themselves from talking about inversion and sonic porn, enthusiasm for them may have waned for a number of reasons.
But when you consider why these apps fail as quickly as they did, lax content moderation is definitely among the biggest reasons. Most people will only spend so much time in a virtual space where they surround themselves with the worst of humanity. If Parler or Gettr will ever be remembered, it will be because they create networks of governors that even conservatives can’t stand.
This column was published with Curriculum, a daily newsletter on big tech companies and democracy.