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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Malicious purge of Parler powered by abusive Big Tech

The abolition of the Parler app last month by Big Tech was either a malicious act of censorship or a justifiable move. Based on new information, we can all agree on this: A small amount of misinformation duped three corporate overlords into silencing 15 million Americans.

Amazon, Apple and Google all claimed Parler failed to appropriately moderate its users ahead of the January riot at the U.S. Capitol. The tech giant’s complaint: They didn’t want to support a social media platform that provided so little oversight that an “insurrection” could be planned on it. Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores, and Amazon removed Parler’s website from its cloud servers, leaving it unreachable. 

If you accept this premise, consider this: An analysis of Justice Department reports by Forbes found that Parler was not the leading website used in planning the riots. In fact, it wasn’t even in the top three. Data from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism revealed Facebook is far and away the social media website of choice for rioters. 

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Of the 223 individuals who have been arrested in connection with the Capitol riot thus far, the Department of Justice found 73 mentioned Facebook as their tool. YouTube, a product of Google, was the second most-named riot organizing network with 24 mentions. Instagram, a Facebook product, was the third most-referenced social media platform with 20 mentions. Parler was mentioned in eight of the arrests — 12-times fewer instances compared to Facebook-tied platforms. 

At least two people recently charged with planning the Capitol attack also used Facebook to organize. They were members of the fringe militia group the Oath Keepers.

So why was Parler singled out to be demonized and de-platformed? Perhaps to no surprise, it was Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg who played a part in steering the conversation. “I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate and don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,” Ms. Sandberg said shortly after the riot. 

In this high-tech blame game, it’s not difficult to imagine what Facebook has to gain by torching Parler just as its user trajectory was skyrocketing.

Facebook, however, is not responsible for Parler’s removal from the Internet. That was done by Apple, Amazon and Google. 

In a unique slice of American corporate history, from a Friday night to Sunday, Google, Apple and Amazon all came to the same conclusion that Parler needed to be eliminated before there was any evidence indicating responsibility. The lawyers and public relations people at all three corporations apparently made the same calculations without evidence within one day of each other. Was that coordination, conspiracy or coincidence? What’s your guess?

In a less generous interpretation, Amazon, Apple and Google had no legitimate reason to ban Parler, but they did it anyway. They leaned in on comments made by Ms. Sandberg and the talking heads in the media to make it seem as though Parler was the only social media platform in the U.S. that was used by irresponsible, violent people. And what about anarchist rioting in Portland and Seattle, or the violence associated with BLM demonstrations? Anyone checking how those people organized their actions?

After ignoring rioting in American cities in 2020, Apple, Amazon and Google can’t pretend they’re now in the business of stopping violence. They can’t pretend they held Parler to the same standard as other social media platforms.

Parler is back online after finding an alternative cloud service to make their website available to the public. They’ve also filed a lawsuit against Amazon. But Parler shouldn’t have had to take these steps. The censorship of Parler was malicious and undemocratic. Big Tech companies should not be allowed to control the Internet, or their abuse of power will only spread. 

• Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington, D.C.


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