A Parler Trick: How to Make a Social Network Disappear

It was a disappearing act that would make Houdini proud. One moment Parler was here and then, Poof, it was gone.

So how did the social network with 12 million active users vanish into thin air? As everyone knows, when it comes to a great magic trick—timing is everything. Let’s meet the “magicians” who made Parler disappear.

The Fringe

Parler’s foundation was built on far-right influencers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer—who were banned from Twitter and Facebook. They no longer had a platform, but they did have a ready audience—Parler jumped to capitalize on it.

Without much in the way of technology to differentiate itself from other social networks (much of its backend was based on WordPress)—Parler sought to clone Twitter feature-for-feature. The social network’s real appeal was that it was a safe space for the “deplorable.” It was Twitter for people who were unwelcome on Twitter.

Parler marketed itself as a haven for free speech but in fact, Parler did censor content it didn’t like. It is claimed that most banned accounts were “left” accounts—which isn’t surprising and Parler had the right to do so—that’s not the issue. The issue became the content that they chose not to flag—for example, far-right extremists utilizing the platform to plan and carry out an insurrection on the Capitol building in Washington D.C. As GPS data showed, the Capitol grounds were swarmed by Parler users. When Parler allowed itself to become a sanctum for terrorists—their disappearing act began.

The App Stores

On January 6, both Apple and Google warned Parler that the app was going to be removed from their stores if developers didn’t create new moderation policies for the platform. They had 24 hours to comply. Presumably, unable to make the requested changes, Parler was soon removed from app stores. Users found themselves unable to install the app without third party workarounds. With Apple and Google owning almost the entirety of the mobile computing market, Parler was on the brink of extinction.

With Parler gone from app stores, Apple and Google were applauded for their quick action. Both companies sent out press releases. Apple promptly sent a press release that stated—“there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity.” Likewise, a Google spokesperson said Parler’s removal was instigated “in order to protect user safety.”

Still, this wasn’t the final nail in Parler’s coffin—one more “magician” would make Parler’s disappearance permanent.

The Content Host

The bulk of Parler’s data was hosted on AWS, Amazon’s cloud service platform, popular amongst emerging startups. That was until Amazon decided they didn’t want to host Parler’s data. On Saturday, January 9, Amazon informed Parler that they would have to look for another web-hosting service.

Citing 98 examples of posts containing threats of violence, Amazon said Parler “poses a very real risk to public safety.” To further accentuate Amazon’s decision, it didn’t help that they had one other reason to ban the social network. Amazon executives accused Parler users of “posting threats of physical violence to Amazon delivery drivers, Amazon facilities, and Amazon executives.”

At first, Parler executives stated they would take their business elsewhere but they have been unable to find another content host. Presto! Parler disappeared entirely from the Internet.

Will they be gone forever? The service is trying to re-emerge by suing Amazon for cutting off its services. In a complaint to a federal court, Parler states that “Without AWS, Parler is finished as it has no way to get online.”

Making Parler disappear that fast was impressive and it only amplifies how much power Big Tech really has. There is no doubt that changes need to be made when it comes to how social media is moderated. How will that look? We don’t know yet but we are clearly entering a new era of the Internet. Maybe all social networks should get their moderating ducks in a row, or they too might end up disappearing before our very eyes.