House Democrat Carolyn Maloney has sent a letter demanding an unprecedented amount of information from the COO of Parler, Jeffery Wernick. Her pretext for requesting this information is the Capitol riot and allegations that individuals used Parler to coordinate it. The evidence for this is a USA Today analysis that says there was an uptick in calls for violence on the platform after President Trump’s speech on the day the Capitol was breached.
According to the Post Millennial, the letter requested everything from the identity of people with ownership interests, to anyone who ever had control of the platform, to every vendor agreement the company ever had. The letter even requested documents based on President Trump’s rumored move to Parler in exchange for an ownership interest. If Trump was already out of office at the time of any such offer, it is difficult to understand how this would pose any conflict. Most emerging platforms offer some compensation to prominent influencers to use their product. It is easy to see how former President Trump would be in that category.
Maloney is the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She has requested the FBI investigate Parler for its role in the January 6th riot in that capacity. Why the committee is investigating a reportedly neutral platform rather than individual users remains unclear. Parler had moderation guidelines, though the platform did get overwhelmed by the volume of new users in the wake of President Trump’s ban from Twitter and Facebook. On January 11th, the Wall Street Journal reported:
On the afternoon of the riot, Amazon warned executives from Parler it had received reports the social-media platform was hosting “inappropriate” content, and that Parler had 24 hours to address it.
“We have been appropriately addressing this type of content and actively working with law enforcement for weeks now,” Parler policy chief Amy Peikoff told Amazon a few hours later in an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Amazon wrote back Thursday: “Please consider it resolved.” The email gave Parler executives confidence that their moderation system, however strained, was acceptable to its tech partner.
While this may not be a smart move after three years of “RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA!” the coordinated removal of services left the platform with few options. In the wake of getting removed from AWS, Parler lost nearly every vendor it had. Former CEO John Matze told Fox News at the time:
“They all work together to make sure at the same time we would lose access to not only our apps, but they’re actually shutting all of our servers off tonight, off the internet. They made an attempt to not only kill the app, but to actually destroy the entire company. And it’s not just these three companies. Every vendor from text message services to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us too on the same day.”
The committee’s broad questions appear to be an attempt to identify anyone who is or has been associated with Parler. If Parler’s cooperation with law enforcement is confirmed, it would seem almost impossible to place responsibility on the company for its users’ actions and rhetoric.
Further, now that investigations are underway, court documents rarely mention Parler. Forbes reports:
Forbes reviewed data from the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University, which has collated a list of more than 200 charging documents filed in relation to the siege. In total, the charging documents refer to 223 individuals in the Capitol Hill riot investigation. Of those documents, 73 reference Facebook. That’s far more references than other social networks. YouTube was the second most-referenced [at] 24. Instagram, a Facebook-owned company, was next [at] 20. Parler, the app that pledged protection for free speech rights and garnered a large far-right userbase, was mentioned in just eight.
While all of these services and others may need more robust tools to identify potential incitement of violence, it does not appear that Parler or any other platform was neglecting its responsibility to do so. While the tools may not be perfect, the companies have made good faith efforts to effectively moderate these behaviors. To punish these companies, despite these efforts, would be like punishing the telecom company if two people plot a bank robbery over the phone. And singling out Parler seems more about who their users were than any dereliction of duty from the company.