Par­ler trick: cen­sored Twit­ter users take flight to free-speech al­ter­na­tive

Even Team Trump has shifted to the net­work af­ter Twit­ter hid the pres­i­dent’s tweet, finds Michael Cog­ley

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce -

Katie Hop­kins, the for­mer Ap­pren­tice star, was last week per­ma­nently banned by Twit­ter for breach­ing its rules on “abuse and hate­ful con­duct”.

But all was not lost. Not long af­ter she was booted from the plat­form, Hop­kins signed up to a new net­work that has gained an im­pres­sive fol­low­ing: Par­ler, a so-called free-speech al­ter­na­tive to Twit­ter.

Since join­ing the net­work, Hop­kins has be­gun post­ing on the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, sug­gest­ing it will re­sult in “Black Eco­nomic Em­pow­er­ment. The trans­fer of wealth along racial lines”. So far, she has gath­ered 259,000 fol­low­ers.

Other users in­clude ac­tor turned free speech ac­tivist Lau­rence Fox and Con­ser­va­tive politi­cians Ben Bradley and Guil­ford’s An­gela Richard­son.

Even Team Trump has shifted to the net­work af­ter Twit­ter founder Jack Dorsey de­cided to hide the US pres­i­dent’s tweet dur­ing the Min­neapo­lis protests. Trump’s son Eric Trump and Trump’s cam­paign man­ager Brad Parscale both have ac­counts.

“It comes in the im­me­di­ate wake, of course, of Twit­ter slap­ping some ‘in­ter­sti­tials’ – warn­ings and fact checks – on Trump’s tweets,” says Carl Miller, the re­search di­rec­tor at the Cen­tre for the Anal­y­sis of So­cial Me­dia.

“That it­self was part of a years-long dis­pute where the Amer­i­can Right has felt that they’ve been sub­ject to cen­sor­ship by Cal­i­for­nian big tech.”

Par­ler, which was estab­lished by 27-year-old John Matze in 2018, de­fi­antly bills it­self as a Twit­ter al­ter­na­tive. In an in­ter­view with

Forbes, Matze claimed that Par­ler now has 1.7m users, al­most dou­ble its sup­posed April tally.

The app has rev­elled in the furore di­rected to­wards main­stream so­cial net­works – and Matze be­lieves it will only be­come more pop­u­lar as the so­cial me­dia gi­ants de­lib­er­ate over their own poli­cies.

“No one is go­ing to want to stay on Twit­ter if the con­ser­va­tives are gone,” he told CNBC.

The site prides it­self on al­low­ing users to “speak freely” and is against the use of fact check­ers. Users can post much in the same way other as they do on Twit­ter and Face­book. They can “echo” posts they wish to share with their own fol­low­ers. Al­ter­na­tively “up­vot­ing” takes the place of tra­di­tional “likes”.

Jim Kil­lock, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the Open Rights Group, says the app is “fill­ing a space” cre­ated by the re­straints. “It may be rea­son­able for th­ese plat­forms to make such re­straints, but it does point to the dan­gers of push­ing far-Right speech into highly net­worked but en­tirely closed spa­ces,” he says.

“If the pur­suit of an ever safer on­line en­vi­ron­ment means that trolls and ex­trem­ists con­gre­gate in spe­cial, un­cen­sored spa­ces and wind each other up with nearly nobody to chal­lenge them, then we may be cre­at­ing a more risky on­line en­vi­ron­ment rather than less.”

With its free speech poli­cies, Par­ler has be­come a hot­bed for ex­trem­ist views and con­spir­acy the­o­ries. It has hun­dreds of posts un­der the hash­tag “Nazi” as well as more al­leg­ing that 5G had ac­cel­er­ated the spread of the coro­n­avirus.

The US dom­i­nates traf­fic to Par­ler, with 87pc of all users from there. But the UK is sec­ond only to it with 2.44pc of its au­di­ence, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from Sim­i­larWeb. The on­line stats site says the UK’s pro­por­tion of Par­ler traf­fic has surged 265pc over the past month. De­spite the in­crease, Miller be­lieves it is still some way off rep­re­sent­ing any mean­ing­ful amount of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion.

“In gen­eral the on­line harms ver­sus free speech dis­pute has sim­ply been a less par­ti­san is­sue in the UK, and I’m not aware of the same kind of en­force­ment ac­tiv­ity be­ing di­rected at UK MPs,” he says.

“It’s just a few clicks to join any of th­ese plat­forms; the real shift will be when sig­nif­i­cant re­sources, money and time are spent on alt-tech by cam­paigns – and I haven’t seen any of that yet.”

De­spite the “free speech” mar­ket­ing of Par­ler, the com­pany does im­pose some rules. It ad­vises users “not to use lan­guage or vi­su­als which sug­gest peo­ple should die”.

It also ad­vises users not to use lan­guage that sug­gests peo­ple “should be at­tacked”.

Un­der th­ese guide­lines, one would imag­ine that Trump’s tweet sug­gest­ing “when the loot­ing starts, the shoot­ing starts” would be taken down even on Par­ler.

Par­ler did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment at the time of writ­ing.

Some re­ports in the US sug­gest that the pres­i­dent an­tic­i­pates be­ing banned from Twit­ter even­tu­ally and that he may move to an­other plat­form.

Such a move would dra­mat­i­cally shape the out­come of the US elec­tion and rep­re­sent a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in the dig­i­tal war over on­line cen­sor­ship.

For now, how­ever, Trump is stick­ing to Twit­ter where he still has a di­rect line to his more than

130 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

‘It comes in the im­me­di­ate wake, of course, of Twit­ter slap­ping warn­ings and fact checks on Trump’s tweets’

Katie Hop­kins, the for­mer columnist, joined Par­ler af­ter be­ing banned from Twit­ter

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