Backed by Rebekah Mercer, Parler is now one of the most downloaded smartphone apps, as conservatives complaining of censorship by Facebook and Twitter seek out other social media alternatives.



As part of combating rampant misinformation, Facebook and Twitter are removing groups, slapping warning labels on posts and reducing the spread of the most egregious false claims of voter fraud. And that's not going over well with some high-profile conservatives, who are now urging their followers to join a social network called Parler. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond has a look. And we should note Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo had a bone to pick with Twitter. On November 4, she tweeted a link to an article claiming, falsely, that Democrats were trying to steal the election.


MARIA BARTIROMO: And I got a note from Twitter saying to me, hello, we have received a complaint regarding your account.

BOND: Twitter hid her tweet behind a warning that it contained misleading content. So Bartiromo fired off another tweet, saying she would soon be leaving Twitter and telling her followers to join her on Parler. She invited Parler CEO John Matze onto her show.


BARTIROMO: And of course, the success of Parler is partly because people understand that they're getting censored. Have Twitter and Facebook gone too far, John?

JOHN MATZE: Well, once you start content curation and you start fact-checking, you're introducing bias.

BOND: Bartiromo's complaint is one many conservatives have made in the past few weeks as Facebook and Twitter crack down more aggressively on efforts to cast doubt on the presidential election. Some say they found a more welcoming home on Parler. Radio host Mark Levin told his audience he was fed up after Facebook restricted his account for repeatedly sharing false information.


MARK LEVIN: I want to strongly encourage you to leave Facebook and to follow me on Parler.

BOND: Thanks to all the attention, Parler, which was founded in 2018, is right now one of the most downloaded apps. In just the past week, its membership doubled to 10 million. That's impressive but still just a tiny fraction of the 187 million people who use Twitter every day or Facebook's billions of users. Parler looks a lot like Twitter, with a feed of posts known as Parleys. One of its early investors is Rebekah Mercer, the conservative donor known for backing Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Breitbart News. NPR talked to Matze, the CEO, this summer. He said the app intended to solve a problem he saw on big social media platforms.


MATZE: We found that a lot of people were experiencing or were talking about censorship. We also saw that there was a lot of issues with algorithms changing.

BOND: Matze says the goal isn't to be a Wild West with no rules, but a town square.


MATZE: We take a hard line against pornography and nudity. But if people disagree with one another, we're not there to mediate and moderate the conversation.

BOND: And that means that some of the claims Facebook and Twitter are now removing or slowing the spread of are popping up on Parler - hashtags like stop the steal, which is being used to organize protests and perpetuate baseless claims of voter fraud.

Shannon McGregor studies social media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's alarmed by what she sees on Parler because she says misinformation is already thriving there.

SHANNON MCGREGOR: What we've seen in the past with some of these other sort of fringe or alternative social media sites is if there's no rules and if it's really siloed, then we know that what happens is it gets more and more extreme.

BOND: But McGregor and other experts are skeptical that conservatives with the biggest audiences will really abandon larger social media apps for Parler, even as they encourage their followers to do so.

MCGREGOR: All these people have accounts on Twitter because that's where journalists are, and that's where the press is, right? And so if they actually left Twitter, they would be less newsworthy, right?

BOND: Just look at what happened this summer after Twitter first began labeling President Trump's tweets for making false claims. Republican politicians like Texas Senator Ted Cruz said they were leaving for Parler. Today, Cruz is still posting on Twitter, and so is Maria Bartiromo.

Shannon Bond, NPR News.

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