Apple and Google face pressure to deplatform Parler over calls to violence

Apple and Google are facing new pressure to deplatform Parler, a social network founded as a less moderated and more conservative-friendly alternative to Facebook and Twitter. Late Friday, BuzzFeed News reported that Apple has given Parler 24 hours to put a moderation platform into place or be expelled from its App Store.

Apple wrote to Parler executives Friday telling them it had received complaints about “objectionable content,” according to BuzzFeed, “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property. The app also appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.” If Parler doesn’t comply, the app will be removed from the App Store.

Activist group Sleeping Giants had called on both Apple and Google to ban Parler from their app stores in response to posts calling for violence against elected officials.

As evidence, the group posted screenshots of Parler posts calling for Vice President Mike Pence to face a firing squad and encouraging “American Patriots” to return to the capital on January 19th “carrying Our weapons.”

The group points out that both Google and Apple have clear rules against violent threats and moderation of content. Apple’s App Store says apps must have “a method for filtering objectionable material from being posted” and “a mechanism to report offensive content.” Google’s Play Store bars apps that “depict or facilitate gratuitous violence or other dangerous activities,” and that “we don’t allow apps that contain or facilitate threats, harassment, or bullying.”

Neither Apple nor Google replied to requests for comment from The Verge. Parler also did not reply to a request for comment.

Parler saw its numbers skyrocket after Twitter and Facebook tightened their moderation, with conservative protesters finding a home among like-minded users. In a Thursday interview with Kara Swisher on the Sway podcast, Parler CEO John Matze said any posts on the site indicating Wednesday’s riots were “illegally organized and against the law” would have been removed. “But I don’t feel responsible for any of this and neither should the platform, considering we’re a neutral town square that just adheres to the law,” he said.

The “Stop the Steal” campaign challenging President Trump’s loss gained particular momentum among Parler users, as well as other conspiracy theories around the election that had been debunked elsewhere. In the wake of the Capitol raid, researchers have circulated dozens of posts on Parler that encouraged violence leading up to the attack on the Capitol. “Chloroform. Silencers. SHARP knives & keep walking,” reads one, “take zip ties with you, sneak up on them like ninjas and zip tie their hands and feet,” reads another, to which someone replied: “around their neck, can’t get it off in time, they die.”

On Thursday evening, the site had posts from Trump supporters questioning whether his concession speech was a deepfake.

There is some precedent for removing an app for hosting violent content. After a gunman killed eleven people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, PayPal banned the social network Gab from its platform, when it was revealed that suspect Robert Bowers had posted anti-Semitic rants on Gab ahead of the shooting. Apple had rejected Gab’s application to appear in its App Store in 2016, and Twitter removed Gab’s access to its API. Google removed the app from the Google Play store in 2017 for violating its hate speech policy.

Since Apple and Google control the biggest smartphone operating systems, the companies wield immense power over mobile app distribution. The inability to push its app on the two biggest app stores greatly reduced Gab’s reach, forcing users to find workarounds to use it on mobile sites. Gab’s desktop site, however, appears alive and well, with a new post from President Trump extolling the “great American Patriots who voted for me” leading the site’s “hot” posts on Friday morning.

Both Twitter and Facebook have implemented temporary bans on President Trump’s accounts, treating recent statements as likely to provoke violence. The platforms had previously adopted strict policies against election and voting misinformation during the campaign.

In a post on Parler Thursday, Matze criticized Facebook and Twitter for their actions against the president’s posts. “It’s clear that Facebook and Twitter believe the ends justify the means. They believe the American people are weak. They insult our founding fathers by suggesting Zuckerburg [sic] and Dorsey know what is best for us,” he wrote. “Parler is not an arbiter of truth. We believe in you. We believe you are wise enough to decide for yourself and trust that given access to all information we can self govern.”

Update January 8th 6:05PM ET: Added report that Apple gave Parler 24 hours to add moderation or be expelled from the App Store

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