The social media platform Parler, a favorite among conservatives, has withdrawn its support for the legal liability protection granted to social media companies, separating itself from competitors such as Twitter and Facebook that say eliminating the protection would prompt them to crack down on their users’ posts.
Parler CEO John Matze defended the Section 230 shield from lawsuits as recently as last month but this week reversed course.
Parler Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Wernick told The Washington Times that the company made the decision to change its view of the protections afforded under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act after consulting its lawyers, not in response to users on its platform.
“We’re designed to be a free-speech, privacy-preserving basically bulletin board so we don’t do surveillance, we don’t have algorithms,” Mr. Wernick said. “Given the fact that we spoke about this with several attorneys, yes it’s true that we might have people that will litigate and try out whether the preexisting case law prior to 230 is sufficient to protect us, but we’re pretty satisfied that, in discussion with our lawyers is that, we would feel we’re likely to prevail in those cases.”
Mr. Wernick said he thought Parler would quickly defeat any legal challenge filed against it, which would serve as a deterrent for others who might consider suing the platform if the legal liability protections in Section 230 are eliminated.
Parler’s membership boomed after the November elections, as President Trump’s supporters sought refuge from perceived Big Tech censorship. The company said it gained more than 4 million new members during one weekend after President-elect Joseph R. Biden was declared the projected winner.
Mr. Matze defended Section 230 as a “really nice thing” last month in an interview on Fox Business.
“I don’t think an outright removal of 230 is a good idea because it promotes competition and it actually helps the small guys more,” Mr. Matze said at the time.
This week, Mr. Matze posted on Parler that the decision to favor a repeal of Section 230 was not easy, but the company felt compelled to make it especially after watching the conduct of Facebook, Google and Twitter and testimony from the companies’ executives to Congress.
“As it stands, Parler benefits from Section 230 today. We are afforded the same protections,” Mr. Matze posted on Parler. “But, overarchingly, 230 is bad for free speech and bad for our country. Parler does not need it, and rest assured we will come out just fine either way. The tyrants not so much.”
Prior to Parler’s policy change, Congress considered revoking Section 230 in a battle over an end-of-year defense policy bill. Mr. Trump hammered lawmakers for failing to scrap the provision in the defense bill and expressed his anger at the lawmakers’ inaction again on Wednesday.
“If these people had courage and guts, they would get rid of Section 230, something that no other company, no other person in America, in the world has,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Washington on Wednesday. “All of these tech monopolies are going to abuse their power and interfere in our elections and it has to be stopped and the Republicans have to get a lot tougher and so should the Democrats. They should be regulated, investigated and brought to justice under the fullest extent of the law.”
As Mr. Trump exits office, lawmakers from both parties have shown support for changing Section 230, but no single plan for scrapping the provision has momentum as the new Congress gets underway.
Asked about how his company thinks Section 230 should be repealed, Mr. Wernick said Parler would leave it up to the lawmakers who have not solicited his company’s input. Mr. Wernick lamented that Congress routinely solicits insight from companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, but not Parler.
In response, Parler is looking for attention for its policy views but has no intention of lobbying Congress directly, Mr. Wernick said.
“We don’t believe in lobbying,” he said. “If they care about our perspective, they will contact us.”