Parler goes dark, sues Amazon to demand immediate reinstatement
January 11, 2021
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Parler goes dark, sues Amazon to demand immediate reinstatement

In less than three days, social networking service Parler has gone from darling of the right wing to a has-been service that can no longer be accessed online. In response, the company is now suing its former Web host, Amazon, alleging the hosting giant intentionally colluded with rival social service Twitter to knock a competitor out of the market.

Amazon Web Services’ decision to cut Parler off “is apparently motivated by political animus,” Parler writes in its suit (PDF). “It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.”

Parler asks the court to grant a temporary restraining order against Amazon and “order AWS to maintain Parler’s account until further notice.” The company also seeks damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.”

Parler’s accusation that Amazon broke antitrust law is certainly driving attention, especially as Amazon is, in fact, under investigation for multiple potential violations of competition law. But for all Amazon’s alleged antitrust flaws, competition seemingly has little to do with the reality of Parler’s demise.

What was Parler?

Parler launched in 2018 as a “free speech” alternative to other social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. In the past two years, it drew mostly politically conservative and right-wing users who felt other platforms, particularly Twitter, were overly oppressive.

While many Parler users were drawn from the “mainstream” right, as it were, over recent months the platform has also drawn an increasing number of alt-right, fringe, and extremist users who have explicitly called for violence. Parler also drew more extremist users in the wake of President Donald Trump’s permanent bans from Twitter, Facebook, and several other social platforms.

Posts on Parler calling for increased bloodshed in the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol—including leading into the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden—have not been difficult to find. Several Twitter and Reddit accounts dedicated to aggregating examples of such overflowed with examples over the weekend.

In the wake of last Wednesday’s insurrectionist events at the US Capitol, those posts are now being taken extremely seriously. In the face of criticism, Parler CEO John Matze doubled down on his “anything goes” stance, rather than agreeing to introduce content moderation. The dominos fell from there.

Things fall apart

Google was the first to act: it pulled Parler from its Android app store on Friday. “We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US,” a company spokesman told Ars at the time. “In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”

Apple followed suit over the weekend, saying in a statement late Saturday, “We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues.”

While Google’s and Apple’s actions took Parler out of mobile app stores, they didn’t actually stop Parler from providing service through its website or to people who already had installed the app. Amazon did that, however, when it announced on Saturday evening that it was going to terminate Parler’s AWS hosting services as of midnight on Sunday, January 10.

After that, just about everyone from whom Parler obtained services bailed.

“Every vendor, from text message services to email providers to our lawyers, all ditched us too, on the same day,” Parler CEO John Matze complained in a Sunday interview with Fox News.

For example, user-authentication platform Okta confirmed overnight Saturday that Parler had been using a “free trial” of its product and that Parler’s account was terminated as soon as Okta found out. “While we support organizations across the political spectrum,” the company said, “our platform will not be used for threats of violence and illegal activity.”

“We will likely be down longer than expected,” Matze wrote in one of his last messages posted to Parler before it went dark. “This is not due to software restrictions—we have our software and everyone’s data ready to go. Rather it’s that Amazon’s, Google’s and Apple’s statements to the press about dropping our access [have] 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.”

But the Internet never forgets…

Parler may be offline, but its content will not be forgotten. One quick-thinking researcher, who goes by the Twitter handle @donk_enby, launched an archiving effort on Saturday to preserve as much Parler content as possible. She began with content from January 6, she told Gizmodo, but was able rapidly to expand her scope.

Eventually, she ended up capturing 99.9 percent of all the publicly available content on Parler, she said Sunday. Although some of the content donk_enby pulled may include videos from deleted or private posts, reports of a Parler “hack” that have been circulating on Reddit and Twitter are false, she said.

“Only things that were available publicly via the web were archived,” she clarified in a tweet today. “I don’t have your e-mail address, phone or credit card number unless you posted it yourself on Parler.”

The massive tranche of data will eventually be hosted by the Internet Archive, donk_enby told Gizmodo, where it will be available for researchers. That means the data will also be easily available to law enforcement, who haven’t had to look far to find and identify many of the perpetrators of Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol because they discussed the attack publicly on social media platforms, including Parler.

Does this lawsuit have legs?

Legs? That seems unlikely at best.

For starters, Amazon’s terms of service, across all its AWS services, are pretty explicit that it can boot customers who allow for certain kinds of content on their sites:

If we reasonably believe any of Your Content violates the law, infringes or misappropriates the rights of any third party, or otherwise violates a material term of the Agreement (including the documentation, the Service Terms, or the Acceptable Use Policy) (“Prohibited Content”), we will notify you of the Prohibited Content and may request that such content be removed from the Services or access to it be disabled. If you do not remove or disable access to the Prohibited Content within 2 business days of our notice, we may remove or disable access to the Prohibited Content or suspend the Services to the extent we are not able to remove or disable access to the Prohibited Content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, we may remove or disable access to any Prohibited Content without prior notice in connection with illegal content, where the content may disrupt or threaten the Services or in accordance with applicable law or any judicial, regulatory or other governmental order or request. In the event that we remove Your Content without prior notice, we will provide prompt notice to you unless prohibited by law. We terminate the accounts of repeat infringers in appropriate circumstances.

Parler alleges that Twitter and Amazon colluded in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. That’s the big trustbuster statute, which reads, in part: “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal.”

However, the effort to deplatform Parler does not appear to have been a concerted act of collusion on the part of other social media platforms or, in fact, any platforms. Far more likely is that every company involved with Parler took a look at the way the winds are blowing in the wake of an actual, literal, violent attack on the US Capitol that left five people dead and decided it would just as soon avoid further ties.

“There is no merit to these claims,” an Amazon spokesperson said about the suit. “It is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content.”

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