Amazon joins Google and Apple in banning app for alleged incitement to violence in wake of Capitol siege
The social network Parler, an increasingly popular forum for the far-right, has been told by Amazon that its web hosting would be suspended on Sunday, a move that all but ensures it is taken offline.
The action is the latest attempt by a tech company to quash incitement to violence in the wake of Wednesday’s rampage in Washington by a pro-Trump mob. Apple and Google expelled Parler from their respective app stores in the past 24 hours, while Twitter permanently suspended the account of President Donald Trump on Friday. Unless Parler can find an alternative hosting company willing to take its business, the site will no longer be able to function after 11:59pm Pacific time Sunday.
The actions against Mr Trump and Parler have heightened debate on the powers of technology companies, as critics accuse them of seeking to regulate speech online and censoring conservative voices. Parler had become an increasingly popular alternative to Twitter for conservatives angered by what they saw as the larger social media company’s liberal bias. But it was popular with far-right activists who critics say have used it as a platform for inciting violence, including calls to assassinate vice-president Mike Pence.
The trust and safety team at Amazon’s cloud division, AWS, wrote in a letter to Parler’s chief policy officer Amy Peikoff that while it provided technology to those with political views across the spectrum it had been “troubled by repeated violations” of its terms of service concerning moderation. “We cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others,” read the letter, first obtained by BuzzFeed News and verified by the Financial Times.
The letter stated that AWS had been in touch with the controversial forum for “several weeks”, bringing to its attention 98 instances of posts that “clearly encourage and incite violence”. An Amazon spokeswoman did not offer further comment. In removing Parler, Apple explained that it respected diverse points of view but that there was no place “on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity.” Parler, a self-described “unbiased social media network” that purports to champion “free speech”, rose to be the number one most downloaded on Apple’s App Store after Twitter banned President Trump’s personal account on Friday.
In response, the outgoing president released a statement saying he had been “negotiating with various other sites” and had looked at the possibility “of building out our own platform in the near future.” Parler’s chief executive John Matze, posting on the site, said the company would rebuild “from scratch” and find a new host. He said the site would be offline for “up to a week”. He suggested the moves were a “co-ordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the marketplace”.
Dina Srinivasan, an antitrust scholar whose work has been instrumental in calls to break up Facebook, said it’s a “cop out” for Parler to bring up collusion. “To suggest that Amazon, Google, and Apple co-ordinated an attack to silence Parler and Trump is ridiculous,” she said. “It’s totally rational for any firm to act in the identical manner.” The decisive moves by the tech giants suggest that any new platform could have a challenging time becoming mainstream. “American companies don’t want to be complicit with an insurrection,” Ms Srinivasan said.