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As Conservatives in the United States continue to spar with Facebook and Twitter over content censorship, a new kid has emerged on the block. Parler, which looks like a mashup of Twitter and Instagram, and calls itself the “free speech social network”, has been a hit among Donald Trump supporters.

Between November 3 and November 9, Parler witnessed 2 million downloads on Apple and Android devices, the Associated Press said, citing data tracked by market intelligence provider Sensor Tower. That is more than 30 times the downloads it saw the previous week.

Parler became the most-downloaded free app in the Apple App Store on November 8, the day major media outlets called the US Presidential election in favour of Joe Biden. Launched in 2018, it presently has about 10 million users – the number having doubled since the election.

The number of Parler users is still minuscule compared with more than 150 million Twitter users and more than 2.6 billion Facebook users. But with big tech companies flagging false information, Parler has become a free-for-all for conservative voices, which accuse the former of aggressive policing of political views.

Parler is connecting particularly with far-right groups such as Proud Boys which see major social networking platforms as having a ‘liberal’ bias. Trump’s son Eric, campaign adviser Jason Miller, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, Congressman Devin Nunes, Fox News host Sean Hannity and radio host Alex Jones are some popular Conservative figures active on the platform.

Why Parler

The platform came to limelight in June, when Trump had publicly flirted with the idea of quitting Twitter and Facebook and joining Parler. Though he hasn’t joined it yet, but White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany detailed Trump’s poll fraud allegations on the platform, according to reports.

Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, had labelled Trump’s allegations misleading, along with his claims of victory. At one point, Twitter applied warning labels to more than a third of Trump’s tweets after polls closed.

Such measures have forced the US right-wing to look for alternate social media platforms, and Parler seems to fit the bill. Brahma Chellaney, geo-strategist and expert on international affairs, tweeted: Twitter’s pro-conservative, “free speech” rival Parler (which is French for “to talk”) has suddenly become America’s No. 1 downloaded news app in response to Twitter’s censorship.

“I’m proud to join @parler_app – a platform gets what free speech is all about – and I’m excited to be a part of it. Let’s speak. Let’s speak freely. And let’s end the Silicon Valley censorship,” Ted Cruz had tweeted in June.

Founded by Rebekah Mercer, John Matze and Jared Thomson, Parler bills itself as an “unbiased social media” platform where one can “speak freely and express openly without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views”, according to its website and App Store description.

Matze had told Forbes in June, “There are going to be no fact-checkers on the platform. You are not going to be told what to think and what to say I think that’s all people want. That’s what they like.”

How does it work

Parler, which means “talk” in French, allows users to post short messages, known as “parley”, and “echo” (repost) other users’ posts. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, it does not use algorithms to recommend content and does not curate one’s feed, according to community guidelines.

In the community guidelines section, Parler says it prefers that “removing community members or member-provided content be kept to the absolute minimum. We prefer to leave decisions about what is seen and who is heard to each individual”.

Parler does not remove content or accounts based on opinions expressed. However, it will remove illegal content or content that might be used in committing a crime, such as terror-related content, calls to incite violence and child porn.

The owners

On November 14, Rebekah Mercer, a prominent Conservative donor, revealed she is among the platform’s financial backers. Rebekah is the daughter of Robert Mercer, a hedge fund manager and co-founder of the now-defunct political data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica. The Mercers have been prominent supporters of Trump and conservative causes.

“John (Matze) and I started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech and also to create a social media environment that would protect data privacy… The ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining and for protection of free speech online. That someone is Parler, a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy,” Rebekah said in a statement on Parler.

According to CNN, the Mercers are associated with organisations that have produced anti-Hillary Clinton books and movies. “But the family emerged in national politics in 2016 when Robert Mercer, who helped oversee Renaissance Technologies hedge fund, and his wife Diane, donated more than $23 million to groups that backed conservative candidates, according to a tally by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics,” it said.

The media-shy Rebekah went on to serve on the executive committee of Trump’s transition team. She is said to have influenced his decisions on reshuffling his campaign team.

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