In less than three days, the social networking service Parler has gone from being a right wing darling to a service that is no longer accessible online. In response, the company is now suing its former web host, Amazon, claiming the hosting giant deliberately partnered with competing social service Twitter to drive a competitor out of the market.
Amazon Web Services' decision to cut Parler "is apparently motivated by political animations," Parler writes in his lawsuit (PDF). "It is also apparently intended to reduce competition in the market for microblogging services in favor of Twitter."
Parler is asking the court to issue an injunction against Amazon and "order AWS to keep Parler's account until further notice". The company is also seeking damages "in an amount to be determined in court".
Parler's allegation that Amazon violated antitrust law certainly draws attention, especially since Amazon is actually being investigated for multiple potential antitrust violations. Despite all of Amazon's alleged antitrust flaws, the competition appears to have little to do with the reality of Parler's death.
What was Parler?
Parler was introduced in 2018 as a "free speech" alternative to other social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. For the past two years, it has mainly drawn politically conservative and right-wing users who found other platforms, especially Twitter, to be overly oppressive.
While many Parler users have been drawn to "mainstream" rights, so to speak, in the past few months, the platform has also attracted an increasing number of old-right, fringe and extremist users who have explicitly called for violence. Parler also attracted more extremist users following President Donald Trump's permanent bans on Twitter, Facebook, and several other social platforms.
It wasn't hard to find posts on Parler calling for more bloodshed after the riot at the Capitol – including the impending inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Several Twitter and Reddit accounts devoted to rounding up examples of this are overflowing with examples over the weekend.
After the uprising events instigated by Trump last Wednesday in the US Capitol, these posts are now being taken extremely seriously. In the face of criticism, Parler CEO John Matze has doubled his "Anything Goes" stance instead of agreeing to introduce content moderation. The dominoes fell from there.
Things fall apart
Google was the first to act: On Friday, Parler pulled it from its Android app store. "We are aware that the Parler app will continue to be published to encourage ongoing violence in the US," a company spokesman told Ars at the time. "Given this ongoing and urgent threat to public safety, we are suspending the app's entries in the Play Store until these issues are resolved. "
Apple followed suit over the weekend, saying in a statement late Saturday, "We have always endorsed different viewpoints that are represented in the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler does not done. " adequate measures to counter the spread of these threats to human security. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until these issues are resolved. "
While the Google and Apple actions removed Parler from the mobile app stores, they did not prevent Parler from providing services through its website or to people who had already installed the app. However, Amazon did so when it announced on Saturday night that it would end Parler's AWS hosting services at midnight on Sunday, January 10th.
After that, almost everyone who received Parler services was released on bail.
"Every provider, from SMS services to e-mail providers to our lawyers, also let us down on the same day," complained Parler CEO John Matze in a Sunday interview with Fox News.
For example, the Okta user authentication platform confirmed overnight Saturday that Parler had used a "free trial" of its product and that Parler's account would be canceled as soon as Okta found out. "While we support organizations across the political spectrum," the company said, "our platform is not used to address threats of violence or illegal activity."
"We'll probably be down longer than expected," wrote Matze in one of his last messages to Parler before dark. "This is not due to software restrictions. We have our software and all data ready. Rather, statements by Amazon, Google and Apple to the press about the blocking of our access have meant that most of our other providers have stopped supporting them." We also. And most people with enough servers to host us have closed their doors on us. We'll all update and update the press when we get back online. "
But the internet never forgets …
Parler may be offline, but its content will not be forgotten. A quick-thinking researcher reaching out to the Twitter handle @donk_enby launched an archival effort on Saturday to try to preserve as much Parler content as possible. It started content on Jan. 6, she told Gizmodo, but was able to expand its scope quickly.
After all, she recorded 99.9 percent of all publicly available content on Parler, she said on Sunday. Although some of the content donk_enby retrieved may include videos from deleted or private posts, reports of a Parler "hack" spread on Reddit and Twitter are false, she said.
"Only things that were publicly available on the Internet were archived," she clarified in a tweet today. "I only have your email address, phone number or credit card number if you posted them on Parler yourself."
The massive slice of data will eventually be hosted by the internet archive, donk_enby told Gizmodo, where it will be available to researchers. That means the data will be easily accessible even to law enforcement, who didn't have to search long to find and identify many of the perpetrators of the attack on the Capitol on Wednesday, as they made the attack public on social media platforms, including Parler, discussed.
Does this lawsuit have legs?
Legs? That seems unlikely at best.
For starters, Amazon's Terms of Service for all AWS services are pretty clear that customers can be booted who allow certain types of content on their websites:
If we believe that any of your content violates the law, infringes or misuses third party rights, or otherwise violates an essential provision of the Agreement (including the Documentation, Terms of Service, or Acceptable Use Policy) ("Prohibited Content ")") we will inform you of the prohibited content and may request that this content be removed from the services or access to it disabled. If you do not remove or deactivate access to the prohibited content within 2 working days of our notification, We may remove or disable access to the Prohibited Content or suspend the Services if we cannot remove or disable access to the Prohibited Content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, we may remove or disable access to Prohibited Content without notice in connection with illegal content disable if d he content interferes with or threatens the Services or in accordance with applicable law or a judicial, regulatory or other official order or request. In the event that we remove your content without prior notice, we will notify you immediately, unless this is prohibited by law. We will terminate repeat infringers' accounts in appropriate circumstances.
Parler claims Twitter and Amazon worked together in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. This is the great Trustbuster statute, which reads in part: "Any treaty, any combination of trust or otherwise, or any conspiracy to restrict trade or trade between different states or with foreign nations is made illegal." ""
However, the effort to deplatform Parler does not appear to have been a concerted act of collusion on the part of other social media platforms or, in fact, any platform. Far more likely, every Parler-related company took a look at the winds blowing after an actual, literal, violent attack on the U.S. Capitol that killed five people and decided has to avoid further connections just as quickly.
"These allegations have no value," said an Amazon spokesman about the lawsuit. "It is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove such content."