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Monday, July 6, 2020

‘Parler feels like a Trump rally’ — and MAGA world says that’s a problem


Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump’s high-profile Fox News allies are flocking to Parler, the purported unbiased alternative to Twitter — and the MAGA internet isn’t crazy about it.

Over the past few weeks, spurred by Twitter’s attempts to moderate Trump’s tweets, Reddit’s decision to ban a massive pro-Trump subreddit, and the bans coming down on figures like meme creator Logan “Carpe Donktum” Cook, several high-profile conservatives and Trump allies have created accounts on Parler, assured that they can basically say whatever they would like without being booted off the platform. Even better, they were joining a large community of MAGA influencers who have been on Parler since its launch in December of 2018, from the mainstream — Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, for instance — to the fringe figures who’d been banned from Twitter, such as Jacob Wohl, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulous.

But to these early adopters — many of whom still have their social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, with massive followings on each — the sudden presence of GOP figures has caused concern that the social media platform may just become a right-wing version of the “safe space” culture they widely mock, with plenty of MAGA stars but few big names from across the ideological spectrum.

The MAGAfication problem is so bad that CEO and founder John Matze has openly begged progressive pundits to join the platform, offering a “progressive bounty” of $20,000 to any left-wing influencer with a following of 50,000 or more users on Twitter who makes an account. And with even establishment conservatives like Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney eschewing Parler for now, Trump supporters worry that Parler’s influencers will be preaching to a MAGA choir forever.

“The question is not pure engagement. The question is influence,” said Will Chamberlain, the editor-in-chief of the populist magazine Human Events. “Twitter is interesting because there's so many people, prominent people, that can be influenced. Parler is not that.”

Regardless, Parler is rapidly growing: In the past week alone, Parler’s user base has grown from 1 million to 1.5 million users, according to a CNBC interview with Matze. And given the number of conservative influencers on the site — as well as a robust presence of conservative outlets, which don’t have to worry about social media companies shutting off their traffic spigots — there is potential for the site to grow a decently sized conservative audience.

Adopters have found benefits to the Twitter alternative: It isn’t lousy with white nationalists, like the niche social media site Gab; it has a better user interface than the encrypted messaging service Telegraph; and its commitment to making both sides equally heard is heaven to the ears of people constantly worried that Big Tech, their so-called liberal nemesis, is about to deplatform them.


However, Parler’s user base is still dwarfed by Twitter, which has over 300 million active users, and Facebook, with 2.6 billion active users. Even Parler’s frequent surge in new users may not be indicative of sustained growth and relevance. Google+ — Google’s attempt to launch a Facebook competitor — similarly surged in users before flaming out quickly. And Parler had several unexpected technical hiccups during its initial launch, such as when Owens announced that she was joining in 2018 and swamped the companies’ servers with 40,000 new followers.

Moreover, conservative attempts to clone pre-existing internet behemoths — Conservapedia, Conservative Fact Check, the infinite attempts to make a Facebook clone — have rarely, if ever, produced an actual winner.

“Every time conservatives try to build the conservative MoveOn or the conservative YouTube or the conservative …. whatever, it never works,” said Matt Lewis, a Trump-critical conservative columnist at the Daily Beast. “This feels like an attempt to recreate the conservative version of Twitter. Maybe it will work out this time, but the track record isn’t good.”

But even if the site grows, the element Parler will find difficult to replicate is Twitter’s vast variety of communities, celebrities, and influencers — particularly if they didn’t feel inclined to join what’s increasingly known as a MAGA platform.

Much of Twitter’s draw, after all, is seeing high-profile people from different ideological backgrounds go after each other. If, for instance, Donald Trump Jr. leaves Twitter for Parler, he won’t be able to get into a real-time social media war with progressive Twitter darling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Nor could Trump himself — the white whale of Parler, who has yet to join the site — direct his nearly 83 million followers to spam the account of a Hollywood celebrity or a Democrat politician who criticized him.


“Until those people start getting on, I think it’s going to be insular,” said Jack Posobiec, a MAGA personality, former Pizzagate proponent and a correspondent for the pro-Trump One America News Network. “And that’s okay. People do like to be able to feel safe. People kind of feel like they’re at a party right now. But the energy of Twitter comes from having different communities on it. And that that energy isn't there right now. Right now, Parler feels like a Trump rally.”

Chamberlain said Parler seems like an easy-out solution to what was ultimately conservatives’ biggest internet problem: their perceived censorship on the platforms with the biggest audiences.

“There are a lot of libertarian-leaning legislators who find that really appealing because they don’t like the idea of using government to regulate big tech,” he said. “They can say, ‘Oh, look at Parler. We don't need to do anything, everybody should just move over to Parler.’”

For now, Parler is the hot new thing on the right, populated by a growing number of right-wing celebrities, right-wing fans and people who would like to troll both of these constituencies by creating fake accounts in their names. The trolls, Posobiec said, are “a weird sort of sign of a healthy online digital commons, because that’s sort of the sign that people from the other side are getting on.”

But unless real political and ideological opponents follow them off Twitter and go on Parler, the site will be little more than a perpetual Trump party where everyone can yammer all day about how Trump is the best, with no pushback.

“I would love to be able to leave for Parler,” said Chamberlain. “I would love to ignore Twitter, but my job isn’t just getting engagement. My job is influencing public conversation, the way I see it. And I need Twitter for that.”



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