Conservatives are flocking to a new 'free speech' social media app that has started banning liberal users

Many of Parler's users have voiced their disapproval of how mainstream platforms such as Facebook and Twitter moderate content.
Sen. Ted Cruz; Sen. Rand Paul.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.Bloomberg via Getty Images, Reuters

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By James Wellemeyer

Last week, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, both announced on Twitter that they were moving to a new social media platform.

"I'm proud to join @parler_app -- a platform gets what free speech is all about -- and I'm excited to be a part of it," Cruz tweeted.

Many others followed suit. Parler, founded in August 2018, touts itself as an "unbiased" social media platform focused on "real user experiences and engagement." In recent weeks, it has become a destination for conservatives who have voiced their disapproval of how mainstream platforms such as Facebook and Twitter moderate content.

But as with every other platform on the internet, Parler's free speech stance goes only so far. The platform has been banning many people who joined and trolled conservatives.

"Pretty much all of my leftist friends joined Parler to screw with MAGA folks, and every last one of them was banned in less than 24 hours because conservatives truly love free speech," a user wrote on Twitter.

Writer and comedian Tony Posnanski also received a ban from the app. "Free speech my a--! I literally said less than here and I got banned," he tweeted.

John Matze, the founder and CEO of Parler, said Thursday in an interview with CNBC that the company remains firm in its promise that it supports free speech.

"Our general premise is that we believe in the good of the American people as a whole and that people should be able to have these discussions," he said. "People don't want to be told what to think. People don't want to be told what to say anymore."

Parler did not respond to a request for comment.

The move to Parler by conservatives comes as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms remain under pressure from Republicans over how they decide to remove content posted by users. Conservatives for years have claimed that they are unfairly silenced on the platforms, although many Republican politicians and pundits enjoy large audiences on them.

The pressure has increased in recent weeks since Twitter labeled multiple tweets from President Donald Trump as misleading and Snap, the owner of Snapchat, announced that it will stop promoting Trump's content. Facebook, which did not take similar action, has faced both a major advertiser boycott over how it handles hate speech and unrest from employees over how it handled Trump's statements.

Republicans have countered by pushing legislation to curtail the tech industry's legal protections, coupled with an executive order from Trump.

Parler is not the first alternative platform to try to capitalize on displeasure with the major platforms. Its user experience is similar to that of Twitter and other microblogging websites. Users can make posts on the platform and receive likes, comments and shares.

Some people who joined the platform described it as a conservative version of Twitter. Rees Paz, who calls himself a left-leaning centrist in his Twitter bio, tweeted that all of the users recommended for him on the app were conservative figures, from Trump's son Eric to Laura Loomer, a conservative activist who was previously banned from Twitter.

But even some conservatives find fault with the platform, which, in addition to stating that it is a free speech haven, promises to "never [share] your personal data."

Its privacy policy says it "may collect ... information such as your name, email address, username, and profile photo."

For people who choose to join the app's "influencer network," the company may ask for information "such as your Social Security number (SSN) or your tax identification number."

Some users have been dissatisfied with the company's efforts to protect their privacy.

Mindy Robinson, a conservative political commentator, criticized Cruz for endorsing the app.

"The minute it asked for a copy of my driver's license to access normal features Twitter already has ... I knew something was seriously wrong with Parler," Robinson wrote.

She then clarified that she was not able to send a direct message on the app without providing a photo of her driver's license.

Another user wrote: "I signed up prior to it requiring a phone number. It hasn't asked me to provide it yet. The moment it does I'm out."

In his CNBC interview, Matze defended Parler's policy on phone numbers and identification, saying people say "nasty things" online because they can stay anonymous.

"On Parler, people get verified, people have phone numbers related to their accounts. People know they're acting and behaving as they would in a town square," he said.

"We are a town square, not a publication," Matze added. "I think people will come around to this idea more and more — society can solve these problems without regulation of the social media platforms."