In the aftermath of Trump’s defeat, the app rocketed to the top of the Google and Apple app stores, a reaction, in part, to the heightened fact-checking Twitter was conducting on the untrue voter fraud claims the president and his allies were circulating.
“Parler’s positioning as a receptacle for Trump’s MAGA supporters is part of a longstanding trend of conservatives threatening a Twitter exodus over claims of censorship and persecution,” said Karim Zidan, a journalist with the left-leaning watchdog group Right Wing Watch. “Twitter’s heavy moderation of posts involving election-fraud conspiracy theories and disinformation has caused MAGA supporters to slowly transition to Parler under the guise of free speech.”
A pro-Trump platform for MAGA people to punish Twitter was not the way that Parler marketed itself when it launched. Indeed, earlier this year, CEO and founder John Matze offered a $20,000 “bounty” to any progressive pundits with a following of 50,000 or more Twitter followers who switched platforms — an attempt to bring some monetizable, partisan internet fights to the platform. But up until the election, the site was largely populated with Republican politicians and top conservatives of MAGA internet squatting on their accounts to prevent impostors.
In recent weeks, however, the site has become a central hub for Trump followers scouring for evidence of the widespread voter-fraud they are alleging.
Some of the far-right journalists covering these claims on Twitter — and frequently overstating the conclusions of their reports — have even directed followers to migrate to their Parler accounts for the unvarnished story.
“In the event I’m censored covering the Georgia recount please follow me on Parler as well,” tweeted Heather Mullins, a reporter for the conservative outlet Real America’s Voice who Trump has retweeted several times since the election.
Over on Parler, dozens of top MAGA influencers are posting debunked claims about Dominion and Smartmatic, two voting technology companies, “deleting” hundreds of thousands of Trump votes.
And people on the site have in recent days started attacking Fox News host Tucker Carlson after he aired a segment pointing out that Sidney Powell, one of the lawyers leading Trump’s court battle to overturn the election, had refused to give him evidence to back up the Dominion claims.
In a sign of the split between Twitter and Parler, Carlson’s takedown went viral on Twitter, while a video of Powell rebutting Carlson on Fox Business Network has spread everywhere on Parler.
Parler also hosted dozens of videos from the Million MAGA March, the pro-Trump demonstration that took place outside the White House last Saturday. The clips were circulated in an attempt to prove the danger of antifa agents and Black Lives Matter activists attacking MAGA acolytes, calling the clashes “terror attacks.” One video in particular went viral, depicting what appeared to be left-wing activists, unprovoked, beating up a Trump supporter.
When the same videos circulated on Twitter, others attempted to point out some missing context.
For instance, the investigative journalist Robert Evans with Bellingcat, an outlet focused on fact-checking and examining open-sourced intelligence, noted the viral video failed to show the apparent Trump supporter first appearing “to shove, strike and threaten a number of people before being brutally assaulted himself.”
According to police records from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the event did not appear to be rife with violence. The department said there were 21 arrests at the event, only a handful of which were for potentially violent incidents. One man was arrested for launching a firework at the protesters, according to police records. Another man from Staten Island was arrested after police said he attacked a would-be thief with a flagpole. Four more people got nabbed for attempting — and failing — to incite violence, records show. And after a Georgia couple who came to “support their president” was arrested for openly carrying semi-automatic weapons.
While the records are not a comprehensive accounting of the day’s skirmishes — other instances likely occurred without police intervention or simply went unnoticed — they do not show any major street brawls, looting or smashed windows, as people on Parler were insinuating.
Parler’s underlying energy also comes from MAGA influencers who have been deplatformed elsewhere and found a new home at Parler.
“Thank you to all my amazing supporters; here, online and in the streets,” posted Hopkins, a British commentator who had been permanently suspended from Twitter after she violated the company’s hate-speech policy in July. Her ban had cost her over a million followers, but she was clawing back: she now had 421,000 followers on Parler.
Parler’s biggest victory post-election, however, was that higher-profile conservatives and lawmakers started engaging frequently with the site. After previously treating their presence on the app as perfunctory, GOP politicians and top conservatives are now bolting to the Parler bunker, as they increasingly see their tweets get labeled — and invalidated — as misinformation on Twitter.
Often, these people present the migration as a matter of making sure their voices are heard, in case, as conservative radio host Mark Levin put it, Facebook and Twitter “continue censoring me.”
Whether Parler can actually scale and present a reliable challenge to Twitter or Facebook is another question, though. It could simply go the way of other right-wing media projects and remain ostensibly on the fringe.
“The self-segmenting of this group to Parler will intensify their extremism. No doubt about that,” said Carusone, of Media Matters. “But it will also weaken the influence of the right-wing by siphoning off a segment of users, many of whom will be the most engaged users.”
And it can’t replace an effective legal strategy to challenge the election. Republican lawsuits thus far have failed to make any progress in reversing the initial vote tally.
It’s a point that even some pro-Trump allies are making. During a Nov. 13 appearance on Fox Business Network, GOP Congressman Devin Nunes was parrying questions from Lou Dobbs, a nominally Trump-friendly anchor, who asked him bluntly if the GOP had a legal plan to save Trump.
“In order to win these battles,” Nunes said, “we have to have a place to communicate. When you ask, what are we doing now, that’s why millions of Americans are flooding over to Parler. They’re flooding over to Rumble.”
“Good lord, congressman,” Dobbs responded. “With all due respect, congressman, and I respect the hell out of you — pushing Parler and Rumble is not an answer to what I’m asking.”