Parler goes offline as fallout from riots in Washington DC continues

Google and Apple removed app for failing to deal with content threatening violence

The Parler app claims to have 12 million users. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/ AFP

The Parler app claims to have 12 million users. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/ AFP

 

Social network Parler went offline in the early hours of Monday morning as the fallout from last week’s riots in Washington DC continued.

A popular platform with far right activists and conservative commentators, Parler saw an increase in its users, claiming to have as many as 12 million using the network. It looked set to become more popular as social networks such as Twitter suspended accounts for violating its terms of use, including that of US president Donald Trump.

However, the social network, which styles itself as a free speech platform, came under fire in the wake of the riots, which saw supporters of Donald Trump force their way into the Capitol building. Five people died during the riot, including a police officer.

In the aftermath, Google and Apple removed the app from their respective app stores for failing to deal with content posted by its users that threatened more violence.

Pariah

But it was Amazon Web Services’ withdrawal of the company’s hosting that finally saw the lights go out. Like many businesses, Parler uses cloud hosting to support its social network; unlike Facebook, Apple, Google and others, it doesn’t have its own data centres to fall back on.

Parler chief executive John Matze said Parler was looking for alternatives to Amazon. But just after midnight Pacific time, Amazon made good on its promise, and Parler went dark.

AWS may not be the only service in town, but it has been difficult for the platform to find another provider willing to extend a hand to Parler. The negative publicity that has come with the violence has made Parler somewhat of a pariah in the tech world.

In a post on Parler prior to the shutdown, Mr Matze warned that the network would be down for longer than anticipated. “This is not due to software restrictions – we have our software and everyone’s data ready to go,” he wrote.

“Rather it’s that Amazon’s, Google’s and Apple’s statements to the press about dropping our access has caused most of our other vendors to drop their support for us as well. And most people with enough servers to host us have shut their doors to us. We will update everyone and update the press when we are back online.”

Gab

Parler isn’t the only network friendly to far-right activists. Before Parler, there was Gab. Founded in 2016, Gab was removed from the Google Play Store in 2017 after the Charlottesville rally, for violating a ban on hate speech. The app has been rejected from Apple’s App Store.

In 2018, the service was dropped by domain registry GoDaddy after posts linked to an attack on a Jewish synagogue were found on the network. It has also been removed from Microsoft’s Azure services. Gab has since set up its own servers to keep operating.

In the wake of Parler’s shutdown, Gab claimed it was gaining hundreds of thousands of new users, with founder Andrew Torba claiming there had been 600,000 new users in a day.

It is unclear how the network will cope with a sustained influx of new users. In a post on Gab, its chief technology officer Fosco Marotto said the company was handling the influx. “We were struggling all day, while deploying 10 new servers, scaling up our database, and optimizing various features... Even with that, 600k new users managed to sign up. As of 3am, the site is running pretty good. Tomorrow we keep scaling.”