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Parler lost its rented server space with Amazon Web Services. Parler also found its phone apps booted off the Apple and Google app stores. This is not the “destruction” of Parler – not unless Parler was on such shaky ground that it cannot be rebuilt. This is certainly hamstringing it, but if this is a “death sentence”, then it is one that is easily overcome with cold hard cash (would that the Reaper were so easily fended off on more fleshly concerns). We need perspective here, and an honest reckoning of what happened, how, and why. We also need to yet again yank the plank from our own eye, for it was just a short while ago that we were adamantly defending another business for refusing paying clientele: I speak of none other than Masterpiece Cakes.
First, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way – understanding how Parler was built, and how it planned to make money for its creators (let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it was all charity work) is key to understanding its demise. Web sites have to be located on computers. You can make a website on your laptop and share it with the rest of the internet if you want. Users just would need to know the numerical address in either IPV4 or IPV6 to find it. If you want to make it easier to find then you would have to register a domain name, and then map that domain name to your server address. Now suppose your little website got really popular because its topic was fun and lovable – let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your website was all about your pet bird. If you had just a residential internet connection, after a point your neighbors would start to complain that traffic to your laptop was killing their own connections. Plus, your laptop has limited processing power to keep serving page views out – and your addition of a little bird forum doubled traffic to the point where your laptop’s cooling fan failed from overuse. How do you fix these issues?
You scale up. You either pay your local ISP for a better connection that’s isolated from the neighborhood’s shared node, and has more bandwidth, or you take your overworked laptop somewhere that has a better hookup. And you replace the laptop with a server. Maybe several in a cluster that appear as one to outsiders (after all, you’ve got bird videos now too, and a bird podcast, and a bird supply store). You also need a moderator because you found your forum was being used to orchestrate illegal bird smuggling. Maybe, instead of spending all that money on equipment, you rent server space elsewhere – a web host who has an entire server farm just for this purpose- that way you can still run it from your home. But now, you no longer control your data – not fully. And it turns out the server host has some other rules in place too.
For one, this host says that he’s not going to accept liability for anything illegal with his clients’ websites, and he’s not going to act as relay (a forwarder) to porn sites, terrorist sites, animal cruelty, etc. Your moderator took care of the smuggling ring, but there’s a bird furry group that’s gotten weird, and (for reasons you cannot fathom) the image of Tweety Bird, once innocuous, has taken on a meme life of its own as a symbol for an unsavory political group. Your host notices that a lot of inbound traffic to your site is being relayed from some of these Tweety Bird groups, and warns you to deal with it or he’ll boot you.
The final straw was when several Bird Liberation Front affiliated members spent a long and seedy weekend warning about a coming war on Kentucky Fried Chicken and Tyson Chicken, and come Monday one of them shot two fast-food workers and tried to deep fry their shoes. The headlines wrote themselves: “Bird Brained Brawler, Egged On To Deep Fry Footwear.” Your host canceled your service. Do you have the (ahem) nest egg to now buy your own servers to get going again?
Unfair? Maybe, but you can hardly blame the web host for not wanting the liability or the publicity. Writ larger, this is Parler’s situation. They were built from the beginning on rented webspace through Amazon – they never controlled their own hardware. Worse for them, they relied heavily on creating a site that was primarily geared towards mobile access, through apps. Both their cloud host and the ecosystem for their apps come with all manner of terms and conditions under which they would do business.
Parler billed itself as being some sort of center for “free speech”, with hardly anything in the way of content moderation or dreaded “censorship”. From its launch, therefore, Parler was immediately peopled not just with users wanting to get away from the moral censoriousness of Twitter, but with all manner of other users – folks that would make Alex Jones look like the voice of cool reason. And such people did as such people do and began to trade in conspiracy theories – QAnon and more besides. Forbes noted over the weekend that the planning did, in fact, occur on Parler and other platforms. Parler had been warned repeatedly in the past months to deal with what AWS was seeing go across its servers, and had been warned by both Apple and Google that their app would be removed at some point. The storming of the Capitol, whose pre-planning was evident on Parler, was the last straw, making “at some point” into “right now”.
Parler made its choice not to moderate – I can tell you from my own time here as a moderator that moderation is necessary. Most users of Ricochet never saw the posts and members who would show up and start dropping racist and anti-semitic rants, or used their image libraries to stash pornography (Max has seen this), because they were eliminated quickly. You could deride that as “censorship” if you will – if you are determined to treat “censorship” as a universally dirty word.
But then again, wasn’t Masterpiece Cakes engaged in a different sort of “censorship”? Wasn’t Masterpiece Cakes honored for exercising their right not to serve clientele in ways found unconscionable? The persistent lunatic who kept suing Masterpiece at one time demanded a satanic cake with protruding sex toys. If we honor Masterpiece Cakes for refusing such clientele, why are Amazon, Apple, and Google condemned for refusing Parler’s business? For that is what they have done.
The lunatic who wanted the pornographic cakes in Colorado, we insisted, had every right to bake his own (quite literally) damned cake. By the same token, only money is hindering Parler from buying its own servers and internet connections, and firing it all back up again. As for the app stores? How long has Ricochet run without an app? And has anyone heard of jailbreaking IOS or sideloading apps on Android phones?
If Parler failed to examine the risks to its strategy when they started, that’s their problem. They wanted to become immediately as large as Twitter, but lacked the capital to do so. I’ve seen that sort of failure before in other businesses – we call it vaporware. Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon all started small, with narrowly defined markets and concepts, then grew from that base. They also learned on the way (and are still learning) through both failures and successes (anyone remember Google Circles?). Anyone hoping to unseat them should be prepared to do the same. Parler tried to jump in at the deep end without knowing how to swim, in a pool they didn’t own, while allowing others to dirty the pool. Now they’ve been thrown out. That’s business.
And nobody should be compelled to do business with them. Not unless you want Masterpiece Cakes to also bake pornographic cakes for a vengeful madman.Published in