- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2020

Meme maker @CarpeDonktum vanished from Twitter without explanation but resurfaced on Parler, a social media platform that has become a refuge for free speech absolutists who abhor Big Tech censorship.

The aggressive crackdown on content by social media giants Twitter and Facebook have motivated droves of President Trump’s supporters to find an alternative. About 100,000 people joined Parler on Tuesday alone, said Parler CEO John Matze, bringing its total daily active users toward 1.5 million on Thursday.

The surge in interest is an accomplishment, but it falls short of the hordes gathering on Twitter and Facebook. By comparison, Twitter reported having 166 million daily active users in the first quarter of 2020. Facebook boasted 1.73 billion daily active users during the same time frame.

Mr. Matze called Twitter and Facebook “techno-fascists” and vowed to dethrone them.

“The only thing keeping them alive at this point, in my opinion, is the controversy around the 2016 election going into 2020 with Donald Trump and the amount of free airtime that Twitter gets every day on every news network and every shoutout on every website,” Mr. Matze said.

The Parler platform is not strictly for conservatives and castaways from other platforms but for people who believe in the principles of free speech and data privacy, the company says.

Mr. Matze describes the platform as ideological and not political.

Many of the newest 100,000 Parler users arrived alongside @CarpeDonktum, a prominent pro-Trump voice who had more than 270,000 followers before Twitter banned him this week. When @CarpeDonktum migrated to Parler, he said he was permanently suspended by Twitter for a meme that violated copyright infringement policies.

Twitter told The Washington Times that @CarpeDonktum was permanently banned for repeated violations of copyright law.

The most recent complaint against the account was brought by Jukin Media, which objected to a video posted by @CarpeDonktum that was shared by the president. The video mocked CNN for allegedly perceiving racism among toddlers, according to Harvard University’s Lumen database.

Parler welcomed @CarpeDonktum, just as it has accepted more controversial personalities including far-right provocateurs Alex Jones and Laura Loomer after their deplatforming elsewhere. Other prominent users include Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican and chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

Parler is based in Las Vegas and has about 20 full-time employees, and Mr. Matze said he is hiring rapidly to meet the new demand. The app went live in 2018, but Mr. Matze said its formal launch was linked to the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington.

He said he anticipates growing pains that come with rapid growth and more engaged users.

“Even the biggest platforms in the world will have scaling troubles if everybody gets on at once, but if we continue at the pace that we’re going, everything should be smooth,” Mr. Matze said. “If Donald Trump went out tomorrow and said, ‘I’m on Parler,’ I think that would be a problem.”

The political left appears content to let conservatives socially distance themselves from larger social media platforms, and Parler knows that presents a challenge.

Mr. Matze said he has had more difficulty courting liberal users, but he thinks Parler’s pitch will attract liberals who share viewpoints that they ought to own their digital profiles as personal property and that they should opt in to view content rather than have trending topics foisted upon them.

“We’re having trouble getting people from the left on,” Mr. Matze said. “We’ve announced a $20,000 bounty for any blue-check-marked Twitter figure with at least 50,000 followers who identifies as a progressive to come onto Parler.”

While some of Parler’s newest members support the populist right’s Big Tech regulation proposals, Parler stands opposed to regulation of any sort. When asked about a proposal by Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, to withdraw legal protections to social media companies that the government deems to have misbehaved, Mr. Matze said he has not seen any legislative proposals involving Big Tech regulation and free speech that make any sense.

Opponents of regulating the tech companies have applauded Parler’s emergence as a competitor that can threaten other social media companies’ grip on the marketplace.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Aaron Mackey said he is not familiar with Parler’s business model but views a new competitor as healthy for the social media sector. Mr. Mackey said regulatory proposals aimed at reining in tech could hurt companies such as Parler.

“The Googles, the Facebooks and the Twitters of the world are going to be able to comply with whatever new standard you throw at them, they’ll be able to litigate all of the cases away, they’ll just throw money at the problem,” Mr. Mackey said. “New entrants, those who would cater to a different view or to a broader spectrum of the population and perhaps serve as real competition to these platforms, won’t get off the ground because they’ll be subject to the crippling liability and other regulatory regimes envisioned by these proposals that no new entrant can reasonably meet.”

Rather than look to government to solve the problems Big Tech has created, the political right should look to the private sector for solutions, said Jesse Blumenthal, Stand Together vice president and Charles Koch Institute director of technology and innovation. Mr. Blumenthal warned against overestimating major social media companies’ dominance as permanent, though he noted other digital platforms such as Gab have attempted to compete with tech giants and attracted conservatives in the past with limited accomplishments.

“There are a handful of these platforms that exist, and I think that it’s good that there are competitors in the marketplace,” Mr. Blumenthal said.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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