Parler is one of the hottest apps in the world, a social network that has attracted millions of conservatives over the past year with its hands-off approach to policing users’ posts. And with the news that President Trump had been kicked off Twitter and Facebook, Parler was the odds-on bet to be his next soapbox.
But just as it was gaining new clout, Parler is now suddenly faced with an existential crisis.
On Friday, Apple told the company that it had to step up its policing of the conversation on its app — undercutting its flagship feature — or lose its platform on iPhones. Several hours later, Google suspended Parler from the Play Store, the main way to download apps on Android devices, until it better polices its app.
In an email to Parler, Apple said it had received complaints that people used the Parler app, which mimics Twitter, to plan Wednesday’s deadly riot in Washington. Apple said it had determined that Parler was not “removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users.”
A day earlier, John Matze, Parler’s chief executive, had said in an interview with the Times about Wednesday’s melee that he doesn’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.”
In its letter, Apple referenced his stance and added, “We want to be clear that Parler is in fact responsible for all the user generated content present on your service and for ensuring that this content meets App Store requirements for the safety and protection of our users.”
Apple gave Parler 24 hours to comply before the app would be removed from Apple’s App Store.
Google said in a statement that it had pulled the app because Parler was not enforcing its own moderation policies, despite a recent reminder from Google, and because of continued posts on the app that sought to incite violence.
“We recognize that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content,” Google said.
BuzzFeed News previously reported Apple’s email to Parler.
Parler did not respond to a request for comment.
The edicts from Apple and Google were a stark illustration of the power of the largest tech companies to influence what is allowed on the internet, even on sites and apps that are not their own.
In the eyes of many conservatives, Parler was a safe haven from so-called Big Tech censorship — a place where they could espouse conspiracy theories, make threats and even plan violent rallies without worrying about getting banned. It had been one of the most downloaded apps in recent months just as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram increasingly cracked down on hate speech and misinformation.
But it is now clear that Parler will not be able to maintain its free-for-all status if it wants to be able to keep its wide reach. Apple and Google make the operating systems that back nearly every smartphone in the world, and they roughly split the market in the United States.
If Apple pulls Parler from the App Store, people would not be able to download the app to their iPhones or iPads. People who had already downloaded the Parler iPhone app would still be able to use it, but the company would not be able to update the app, meaning it would eventually be rendered obsolete as Apple updated the iPhone software.
Google’s suspension is problematic for Parler, but people with Android devices will still be able to get the app, just with a bit more work. Google allows other app marketplaces on Android, and its decision only applies to its flagship Play Store.
And people will also still be able to use Parler via web browsers on their phones or computers.
Parler’s app has been downloaded more than 10 million times on iPhones and Android devices, with more than 80 percent of the downloads coming from the United States, according to Sensor Tower, an app data firm. On Thursday, the day after the riot in Washington, people downloaded Parler 39,000 times, more than twice as much as the day prior.