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The strange, violent death of Parler social network

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The strange, violent death of Parler social network

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sat Jan 09, 2021 4:03 am

Google suspends free speech app Parler

Parler styles itself as "unbiased" social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter

But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.

Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.

On Parler, the app's chief executive John Matze said: "We won't cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!"

Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.

While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.

It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.

However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.

Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?

For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.

As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the platform became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.

This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.

In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden's victory by Congress.

Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.

Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.

However, to those growingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.

This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.

In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: "Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.

"In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app's listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues."

It said it had seen "accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate" the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.

Mr Matze said Parler had "no way to organise anything" and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.

But Apple said: "Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service."

"We won't distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content."

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-55598887
Last edited by Anthea on Sun Jan 17, 2021 2:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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The strange, violent death of Parler social network

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Re: Google suspends free speech app Parler

PostAuthor: Anthea » Tue Jan 12, 2021 3:07 am

Parler social network sues
Amazon for pulling support


Parler has hit back after Amazon pulled support for its so-called "free speech" social network

Parler had been reliant on the tech giant's Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing service to provide its alternative to Twitter.

The platform was popular among supporters of Donald Trump, although the president is not a user.

Amazon took the action after finding dozens of posts on the service that it said encouraged violence.

In response, the platform has asked a federal judge to order Amazon to reinstate it.

"AWS's decision to effectively terminate Parler's account is apparently motivated by political animus," the complaint reads.

"It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter."

Google and Apple had already removed Parler from their app stores towards the end of last week saying it had failed to comply with their content-moderation requirements.

However, it had still been accessible via the web - although visitors had complained of being unable to create new accounts over the weekend, without which it was not possible to view its content.

'All ditched us'

Parler has been online since 2018, and may return if it can find an alternative host.

However, chief executive John Matze told Fox News on Sunday that "every vendor from text message services to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us too".

"We're going to try our best to get back online as quickly as possible, but we're having a lot of trouble because every vendor we talk to says they won't work with us because if Apple doesn't approve and Google doesn't approve, they won't," he added.

AWS's move is the latest in a series of actions affecting social media following the rioting on Capitol Hill last week.

Facebook and Twitter have also banned President Trump's accounts on their platforms, citing concerns that he might incite further violence.

Parler's users included the Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who had led an effort in the Senate to delay certifying Joe Biden's electoral college victory.

He had about five million followers on the platform - more than his tally on Twitter.

Parler's app now shows an error message and its website is offline

"Why should a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires have a monopoly on political speech?" he tweeted over the weekend.

However, Amazon told Parler that it had seen a "steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms", adding that it did not believe the platform's administrators had an "effective process" that could tackle the problem.

Examples it provided include posts calling for the killing of Democrats, Muslims, Black Lives Matter leaders, and mainstream media journalists.

Parler's downfall appears to have benefited Gab - another "free speech" social network that is popular with far-right commentators.

It has claimed to have "gained more users in the past two days than we did in our first two years of existing".

Parler has long been a home for what you might call untouchables, people who had been excluded from mainstream services for offences such as blatant racism or incitement to violence.

During a brief excursion onto the site over the weekend, I observed plenty of examples of such behaviour, with users exhibiting vile anti-Semitism, displaying Nazi symbols such as the swastika and uttering incoherent threats against those they perceive to be enemies of America.

But as Amazon's deadline approached something like panic took hold, with users desperately urging their followers to join them on other platforms.

Most seemed to accept that Parler was doomed, while vowing to continue their fight elsewhere.

"Well this is the end," wrote one user, who proclaimed his support for the American Nazi Party.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-55615214

I do not differentiate between fanatical Christians or fundamentalist Muslims, between radical right wing groups or loony left wing Marxist groups - they all have the right to free speech.

If their beliefs are not out in the open those beliefs will be shared underground, they will not just vanish.

By sharing some of those views openly it may just help others to understand different points of view or show some of the more radical groups how absurd their beliefs are.

Personally, I dislike some left-wing socialist groups that gain support by by telling people they will have more freedom and control. Wrong because there will always be someone in control as in the case of the Loony Left Labour party in the UK. They control the most run-down areas in the UK and pay themselves as councilors the highest wages, rather than trying to improve the lives of local citizens.

I have seen the way the Loony Labour party have destroyed Croydon since they took over and the extremely high wages they pay themselves. People should be allowed to voice their opinions and by sharing, we could name and shame some of our politicians and local councilors. Hopefully we may even prevent some of the more useless politicians and councilors from being re-elected :))
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Re: Parler social network sues Amazon for pulling support

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun Jan 17, 2021 2:50 pm

The strange, violent death of Parler
By James Temperton for WIRED

In the days before Parler went offline, its members raged

The number of posts using terms such as civil war, insurrection and rebellion soared while mentions of the Proud Boys – a far-right, neo-fascist, male-only extremist group, also increased dramatically. Parler data analysed by WIRED reveals that the mentions of such terms rose from just 858 instances on January 1 to 3,261 at their peak on January 9 – an increase of 280 per cent.

The data, pulled from Parler in the hours before it went offline by Junkipedia, a disinformation analysis tool, reveals a surge in activity on the site in the days surrounding the storming of the US Capitol. Between January 1 and January 10, the day that Parler went offline, posts mentioning terms such as civil war and insurrection received more than 212,500 total interactions (likes, comments and shares) and were seen by an audience of more than four million people. At its peak on January 6 such posts on Parler were viewed by more than half a million people. This represents just a snapshot of the content posted on Parler at this time – albeit a snapshot focused on some of the most extreme, violent topics.

And it all started and ended with Sean Hannity. “I saw that the president joined it,” the Fox News host said on January 8 following Twitter’s decision to permanently ban US president Donald Trump for inciting violence. “It’s like Twitter – it’s called Parler,” he continued. What followed was chaos.

Trump never did end up joining Parler – he barely had time. But scores of his supporters did in anticipation of his arrival, propelling the alt-tech platform to the top of Apple’s App Store. At the time, Parler had 15 million users and was adding around one million more each day.

On January 9, Apple and Google banned Parler from their respective app stores, pointing to its repeated failures to moderate violent hate speech on its platform. Later that day, Amazon announced that it would suspend Parler from Amazon Web Services, removing it from the web at the push of a button – but not until 23:59 Pacific Standard Time on January 10.

Parler was granted a stay of execution – 24 hours in which the extremists and conspiracy theorists who had made it their home could continue shouting at one another in the void. Or plan their next move.

Some encouraged their followers to sign up to mailing lists. Others shared the details of Telegram channels or told their followers to join them on Gab or MeWe, two other alt-tech social networks riddled with far-right extremists. Some just kept on shouting.

Many of these posts were, as with so much of Parler, nonsense. But amongst the sludge of hashtag spam were calls to arms. “Time to stand and give the left the Civil War they want,” wrote one Parler user on January 5. “Boot’s on the ground mother fucker....! Total Commitment,” wrote another. Others shared posts baselessly claiming that Joe Biden is a pedophile or attacking antifa and Black Lives Matter “scum”.

Similar threats of violence are contained in posts from late 2020 and early 2021 detailed in court filings from Amazon, made in response to an emergency motion by Parler to restore its hosting services. “After the firing squads are done with the politicians the teachers are next,” one Parler user wrote. “We are going to fight in a civil War on Jan.20th, Form MILITIAS now and acquire targets,” wrote another, referring to president-elect Biden’s inauguration on January 20. In court, Parler has argued that there is no evidence its platform was used to incite last week’s storming of the Capitol.

These posts give a snapshot of the radicalised, conspiracy-theory filled pot that almost all Parler users stewed in. At his Save America rally on January 6, Trump encouraged the crowd, scores of whom, GPS data has since revealed, were using Parler at the time, to march on Congress. “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide,” Trump said, adding that he and his followers would never concede. “If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Trump has since become the first president in US history to be impeached twice after being charged with inciting an insurrection.

As the riots played out on TV screens and social media feeds across the world, a group of hackers and archivists raced to download the entirety of Parler’s vast database. At the time, aware that much of the content posted to Parler could be deleted by skittish rioters, it was an attempt to capture a record of the day. Then, when Amazon announced it was taking Parler offline, the archiving effort morphed into a desperate scramble. One of the leaders of the project, a pseudonymous Twitter user known as @donk_enby, described the process as akin to “a bunch of people running into a burning building trying to grab as many things as we can”.

That they were able to do so is testament to both Parler’s lax security protocols and the remarkable efforts of the open source intelligence community. Since its launch in August 2018, Parler has pitched itself as a place where free speech and, weirdly, user privacy reign supreme. “We will never sell or share your data!” the company claimed in a February 2020 tweet encouraging people to sign up. It might not have intended to, but Parler left anyone who had ever posted on its platform ruthlessly exposed. Unlike Twitter, for example, which uses random strings of letters and numbers to create unique identification codes for each new post, Parler creates all such IDs sequentially. The practice is common across social media sites. Increase the value on any Parler post or account by one and you get the next post or account.

Crucially, Parler also didn’t limit the rate at which someone could access posts on its site. This allowed archivists to write a simple script that told Parler’s web server to gather up and download every piece of public content ever uploaded to the platform. The archive totals 56.7 terabytes and is made up of 412 million files, including 150 million photos and one million videos.

What’s more, all of those photos and videos still have their metadata attached, including the exact time and location where they were captured. Within hours of the data being posted online, technology news site Gizmodo revealed that a number of Parler users were amongst the horde of rioters that forced their way deep inside the Capitol. It also appears as though deleted posts were retained in Parler’s database and even flagged as deleted, potentially giving law enforcement and researchers access to posts that Parler users wanted to erase from history.

Parler’s future remains uncertain. It has never received any venture capital funding and didn’t make any money from advertising. “It’s hard to keep track of how many people are telling us that we can no longer do business with them,” John Matze, the platform’s CEO, told Reuters. In comments made since Parler went offline, Matze has oscillated from pessimistic to optimistic. Asked when Parler might return, he said, bluntly, “it could be never”. Later, he promised that – even if it takes a long time, Parler would return. “And when we do we will be stronger,” Matze said.

Even if it does find a company willing to host it, being back online might not be enough to save Parler. (On January 11 Parler registered its domain with Epik, a company known for hosting other far-right websites, including Gab. Epik says Parler has not made contact regarding hosting). In recent days Parler has become the subject of the same baseless conspiracy theories that previously ran riot on its platform. On Gab, MeWe and Telegram, the three main beneficiaries of Parler’s demise, people now claim Parler is not safe. Analysis carried out by Logically, a startup working to tackle misinformation, found several popular posts on alt-tech platforms claiming Parler was controlled by the US government. One post on Telegram includes antisemitic comments about Parler’s CEO.

With no place to go and a user base that is already turning against it, Parler’s days might be numbered. Its sole purpose right now is to show, terabyte by terabyte, the true cost of radicalisation. More than 1,200 videos were uploaded to Parler in the Washington DC area on January 6, the day the Capitol was breached. According to reports, the FBI has already sought access to this data. But it likely has other ways to access its own, more reliable copy of Parler’s database. All of Parler’s data has been retained by Amazon Web Services, a spokesperson for the company confirms. If a judge were to limit the scope of a search warrant and only release parts of the Parler data held by Amazon to law enforcement then the near-complete dataset circulating online could become invaluable.

“The Parler data acquired by archivists can be very useful from a law enforcement perspective,” says Alexander Urbelis, a partner at Blackstone Law Group. Urbelis explains that the publicly available Parler data will likely act as an “investigatory complement” to the official data held by Amazon. This could allow the FBI, for example, to pursue leads more quickly and with more information to hand before issuing further warrants for access to email accounts, servers and other communications linked to the Parler data and the insurrectionists. In short, the publicly available Parler data is 56.7 terabytes worth of leads, none of which require a search warrant.

But the messy nature of this dataset – and its availability to anyone with an internet connection – could also prove problematic. “It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that this information will be exploited by other extremists for recruitment,” Urbelis says. Such a large, detailed dataset could even be used by advertisers and data miners to gather valuable new information. But, crucially, in a court of law the public dataset is unlikely to stand up under pressure. While it could prove useful for attacking the accuracy of witness testimony, Urbelis explains, it would likely need to be matched with official data held by Amazon to be admitted as evidence.

Parler’s legacy is both a blessing and a curse. Though its membership was small – 15 million to Facebook’s 2.7 billion – Parler was, above all else, a radicalisation engine in which extreme views were made evermore dangerous. But it was also a poorly-coded radicalisation engine, which, with its dying breath, inadvertently outed the extremists who had made it their home. These two things in combination have created a vast and potentially incriminating archive of evidence that can now be accessed by anyone. That, in itself, is problematic. As one technologist with access to the Parler data – and powerful tools to analyse it – told Vice, it would be a mistake for anyone to enable widespread data misuse. The Parler data is just as much a privacy scandal as it is a goldmine for law enforcement.

And now the world is left to pick through Parler’s remains. “This was a platform that served for casual conversation, amplification and radicalisation,” says Cameron Hickey, director of algorithmic transparency at the National Conference on Citizenship, a non-partisan non-profit. But Parler wasn’t, Hickey argues, a platform where organisation took place. While it was filled with chatter about the Trump rally in Washington DC on January 6, Hickey, who has closely monitored extremist groups on the platform for some time, has found little evidence of people making concrete plans to, say, gain access to the Capitol through a certain side entrance. That’s hardly surprising – much of that chatter will have likely taken place in private messages. Understanding how that leap from public anger to private plotting was made is urgent but challenging work.

So what might the Parler data reveal? Beyond the potentially incriminating evidence, it is also a warning. Take Lin Wood, the pro-Trump lawyer and conspiracy theorist, as an example. On January 7, the same day he was permanently suspended from Twitter, Wood turned to Parler. “Get the firing squads ready,” he wrote. “Pence goes FIRST.”

In a bizarre final act, Wood’s post was removed from Parler for breaking its community guidelines on encouraging violence. As the walls fell down around it and its users called for further unspeakable acts of violence, Parler finally found its limit. “Almost everything on Parler was bad,” says Hickey. “Probably 80 per cent of the content was either spam, or false, misleading or problematic content. What it demonstrates, possibly more than anything else, is what happened when you deplatformed all these people from Facebook, and Twitter and Instagram. They all went to Parler. What happened then? Did that create some really nasty radicalisation soup?”
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