What my day on conservative social network Parler was like

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Gary Collins, a guru of off-the-grid living, asked his fans on Parler, the fast-rising Twitter copycat for conservatives, why they had joined the service.

“Because I was sick of the truth being ‘fact checked’ on Facebook,” said one user going by the handle NicoYazawa. 

Another user, Katherine Strange, gave an anti-liberal answer: “I joined Parler because I don’t want to be a part of BIG TECH leftists any longer. I will not be censored.”

The presidential election and associated anger it has sparked has given Parler a huge lift. The two-year-old service has skyrocketed in popularity as conservatives seek a home far away from Twitter and Facebook, where they feel unwelcome and unfairly treated.

The vibe on Parler is decidedly Fox News, with Trump routinely cast by users as a hero who has had an election stolen from him. The service, which touts its free speech credentials, on Tuesday featured posts with links to unsubstantiated claims of flaws in voting machines, accusations of widespread voter fraud, and conspiracy theories about COVID-19.

Users also lashed out at mainstream media and social media services like Facebook and Twitter for allegedly helping liberals get away with election theft and being part of a cover-up, despite the lack of evidence. 

“Why isn’t Twitter putting warnings on Biden’s tweets claiming he’ll be president from January 20th,” a user going by Avi Yemeni posted. “It’s just as ‘disputed’ as Trump’s tweets.”

On Tuesday, Parler, already home to a raft of well-known conservative commentators, landed yet another: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Within the first two hours of joining, he had gained about 170,000 followers. His first post was a video of his Monday show, in which he cast doubt on the election results. The post received more than 14,000 echoes, similar to retweets on Twitter, and more than 37,000 upvotes, similar to Facebook’s likes. 

Meanwhile, Ben Stein, best known for his game show Win Ben Stein’s Money and his role in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, stewed about Democrats. “Have you ever noticed that all dictatorships begin with cries for social justice?” Stein said in a post that was seen by more than 753,000 users. “Here at the Stein household, we’re not going to give up now…#maga2020 #election2020 #parlerusa #trump.”

Though the chatter on Parler Tuesday focused on the election, the news section also included articles discussing “mask propaganda,” how a $15 minimum wage may kill millions of jobs, and how New Jersey’s recent bill to legalize marijuana could impact the cannabis industry. 

And not all of the posts were serious. One user, for example, shared a clip of the moment when NBC News reporter Ken Dilanian cursed to himself on live TV, not realizing he was on air. Another shared a Christian news satire site’s article poking fun at Joe Biden and the Democrats, comparing them to Thanos, a Marvel Comics villain whose goal is to kill half the population to create global stability.

Parler CEO John Matze has boasted about his service’s growth. In a statement on Tuesday posted on the site, he said the service’s popularity has “exploded,” noting that more than 4.5 million users have created accounts since Friday. He added that more than 5 million users were active on the service on Monday, eight times as many as there were a week earlier. 

Matze suggested that Parler will continue to “defy authoritarian content curation,” a dig at social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, which have tightened their rules on misinformation as the election neared. Over the past couple of years, both services have created new warning labels for misinformation and, in some cases, for violence. Twitter has also obscured posts from Trump to prevent election misinformation from spreading. 

“Facebook and Twitter’s suppression of election information was a catalyst, causing many people to lose their trust,” Matze said in his post. “But the movement away from these platforms was already well underway.” 

Matze is also getting a taste of the mundane complications of operating a quickly growing social media site—something that Parler’s more established rivals overcame years ago.

In his statement on Tuesday, Matze acknowledged that the service’s growth had “strained” the site’s capacity and caused “some glitches and delays.” The company has fixed some of the problems and is working on the others, as well as introducing new features to help users better choose what they see based on their interests, and to more easily find family and friends on the service. 

In recent months, Parler, like the social networks it’s intended to counter, has had its own run-ins with users. Although a self-described haven for free speech, the service decided it had gone too far and created rules, adding volunteer moderators to rein in the dark side of human nature, including obscenity and photos of human feces.

Free speech is complicated.

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