Twitter will “soon fade into a little cry room for the leftists babies who need a safe space from words,” user Snyderart tweeted Wednesday night amid an exodus of right-wing Twitter users to a competitor social app called Parler. The irony seems lost on him and others. While literally retreating from a dominant public forum, many users seem to believe they are on the offensive against @jack, founder and CEO of Twitter, and against a conspiracy of anti-conservative bias implemented via shadow bans and rigged algorithms.
Yet here they are announcing their retreat and defeat on the app they claim they intend to abandon.
This is not the first attempt to establish a right-wing alternative to Twitter. As Jane Coaston reported for Vox, a few years ago the social media site Gab was “created as the ‘free speech’ alternative to Twitter.” Gab’s prominence faded, Coaston explained, as the platform gained a reputation for being “the social media epicenter for the anti-Semitic fringes of the far right” after it came to light that the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooter had a profile on the app.
And Parler itself is not new either: Nationalist history expert Candace Owens pushed her followers to join in December of 2018:
The increasing frustration on the right with Twitter continued in 2019, and a year ago, the Daily Beast reported that Gab and Parler were “at war” over which platform President Trump would join first. For his part, the president has a long history of griping about Twitter:
While the president’s rhetoric is overblown, the fear and anger on the right is not entirely without cause. Mona Charen wrote for National Review in 2019 on the lopsided nature of Twitter’s handling of complaints against users’ tweets that are deemed inflammatory: “Let’s face it: Threats, vile abuse, and harassment have become a key part of Twitter’s brand, but only a select few offenders are punished or banned.” Take a glance at the mentions of any random prominent woman with a semi-active account on the platform and you’re sure to find appalling comments and harassment that gets reported without recourse. For vile trolls, the Twitter rules seem to be applied arbitrarily, while those who express socially conservative beliefs about gender sometimes seem to be made an example of.
But the current right-wing reaction to legitimate grievance with Twitter’s incompetent and inconsistent handling of trolls versus perceived political editorial discretion is disproportionate. Right-wing users pad their outrage with manufactured intrigue around shadow bans and fidelity to Q-Anon.
Parler has been ready and waiting for the right’s final disillusionment with Twitter. The newfound enthusiasm for the app is due to Twitter first adding fact-checking warnings to some of the president’s tweets last month—a move that so infuriated him that he signed a constitutionally dubious executive order “preventing online censorship”—and then putting a warning label on a Trump tweet following the death of George Floyd that said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a phrase made famous by the Miami chief of police during the race riots of 1967.
Twitter’s warning on the tweet read: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” This flagging was deemed to be censorship by the MAGA cohort, even though you could still expand and read the full text of the president’s tweet.
There have since been more tweets from the president that earned warning labels and fact-check notices. And then this week the popular meme account Carpe Donktum was permanently suspended for repeated violations of DMCA copyright policy.
It remains to be seen if Parler can sustain the apparent increase in users and whether it will meet the same fate as Gab. Since the motivations for many of the departing seem to be aligned with Katie Hopkins, a notorious racist provocateur, it’s doubtful Parler will be a bastion of civility and moral fortitude. All the usual suspects of Edgelord Conservative World are flocking to the app, including Devin Nunes, Rand Paul, Kurt Schlichter, Jesse Kelly, Curtis Houck, Bill Mitchell, and Benny Johnson, plus even some erstwhile establishment figures like Ari Fleischer.
Don’t worry, though, it’s not a total dudefest—Cassandra Fairbanks is there, too, and thinks lefties should come and hang out for some “friendly squabbles”:
OAN Anchor Emily Finn tweeted that she wanted to see what all the hype was about as well. “So far seems like a promising alternative to Twitter! There’s way more people than I expected already using it,” she said in reply to a follower asking if it was worth it.
Parler does have one thing going for it: The Krassenstein brothers, of presidential reply-guy lore, appear to be active on the app. While collectively dunking on them won’t solve all our social and political ills, it might be worth a shot.
“So fitting that their name is ‘Parler’ (par-lay) which is French for ‘to talk’. France is having a rebellion, and now so are we!!” Candace Owens tweeted back in 2018 with the hashtag #AmericanRebellion. Like most rebellions, the #Twexit campaign may have repercussions beyond social media, though, as the Trump re-election campaign and Brad Parscale try to save face as the polls continue to shift out of their favor.
And beyond 2020? If Parler succeeds in siphoning off a portion of right-wing Twitter, it will be in keeping with conservatives’ decades-long practice of creating alternative institutions that allow them to indulge in a fantasy reality fetishizing persecution while isolating themselves from wider society.