Right-wing social media platform Parler, which has been offline since Amazon Web Services dropped it like a hot potato last week, has reappeared on the Web with a promise to return as a fully functional service “soon.”
Although the platform’s Android and iOS apps are still defunct, this weekend its URL once again began to resolve to an actual website instead of an error notice. The site at the moment consists solely of the homepage, which has a message from company CEO John Matze.
“Now seems like the right time to remind you all—both lovers and haters—why we started this platform,” the message reads. “We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media. Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both. We will resolve any challenge before us and plan to welcome all of you back soon. We will not let civil discourse perish!”
Parler, however, was deplatformed in the first place explicitly because the content it allowed to flourish was anything but “civil,” and as multiple reports have made clear, the service backend was designed with basically no thought given to privacy. Meanwhile, the path Parler appears to be taking to rejoin the Internet is a shady one paved for it by other explicitly extremist, white nationalist platforms that lost access to more mainstream services after being tied to terrorism.
Parler’s deplatforming began in the wake of the insurrectionist riots at the US Capitol the week before, as it became clear a number of Parler users who had used the platform to make threats were in fact present in the mob that stormed the building.
The insurrectionists who gathered in the District of Columbia on January 6 not only planned out their attack using social media platforms but also used those platforms—especially Parler—while they were at the Capitol. Many major media outlets reported before, during, and after the events of January 6 that the rioters were using Parler to organize.
Google booted Parler from the Android app store on January 8, citing its failures to take down explicitly “egregious content” that incited violence. Apple followed suit a few hours later, suspending Parler from the iOS App Store over its failure to remove “threats of violence and illegal activity” in accordance with the Apple developer agreement.
The final blow for Parler followed that weekend, when AWS stopped providing Web-hosting services to the platform and called it a “very real risk to public safety.”
“It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service,” the company wrote in an email to Parler. “You remove some violent content when contacted by us or others, but not always with urgency. Your CEO recently stated publicly that he doesn’t ‘feel responsible for any of this, and neither should the platform.’ … It’s our view that this nascent plan to use volunteers to promptly identify and remove dangerous content will not work in light of the rapidly growing number of violent posts.”
Parler turned right around and sued Amazon over the ban, petitioning the court for immediate reinstatement. So far, however, that suit has only made clear just how much violent content Parler was apparently willing to host, as Amazon in its legal response brought (truly vile) receipts showing what kind of content it had explicitly been warning Parler about for months.
About that privacy…
In the roughly 24 hours between the time that Amazon warned Parler it was going to terminate the company’s service and the time the platform finally went offline, a quick-thinking researcher managed to scrape and archive almost all of Parler’s public content—which, due to poor coding choices on Parler’s part, meant she was able to access not only some deleted posts but also a trove of metadata, including precise GPS locations for user videos.
Researchers, journalists, and law enforcement have since been able to use that data to pull together a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on inside the Capitol that day—and who was there doing it.
Gizmodo quickly used the GPS data to pull together a map showing that there were hundreds of videos posted to Parler from the Capitol grounds or inside the building on January 6. Another researcher made an interactive map linking the videos to the location pins for easy viewing. And over the weekend, ProPublica published a comprehensive timeline comprising more than 500 videos from Parler to show the events of the day, from President Donald Trump’s speech near the White House to the eventual breakup of the mob in the early evening.
Federal authorities have already made more than a hundred arrests related to the attack at the Capitol. Court documents show many of the suspects currently under arrest were using social media, including Parler, to share images, videos, or live broadcasts of their alleged crimes.
The road back to visibility
Parler has apparently secured hosting from Epik to bring itself back online. Epik is best known for helping far-right extremist platform Gab to come back online a short time after a Gab user committed a mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018; it has also provided services to other white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and neo-Nazi platforms including 8chan (now known as 8kun) and The Daily Stormer.
Cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs last year published an analysis of potential legal liabilities DDoS-Guard might face inside the United States due to its client list. Krebs called the list “revelatory,” noting it includes “a vast number of phishing sites and domains tied to cybercrime services or forums.”
Most notably, DDoS-Guard also provides hosting services to Hamas, which the US has classified as a terrorist organization for more than 20 years.