Parler is gone for now as Amazon terminates hosting

After Parler was banned on both the Apple and Google app stores for failing to curb violent and threatening content on its platform, the social media site is now completely offline as a result of Amazon terminating Parler’s web hosting services. The official Parler website now returns a 403 error, while its app is showing networking errors and can’t load content.

Amazon told Parler of its decision late Saturday, in a letter to chief policy officer Amy Peikoff. Its Amazon Web Service (AWS) “cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others,” the letter to Peikoff states, adding that Parler “poses a very real risk to public safety.”

Posts on Parler that encouraged violence leading up to the Wednesday attack on the Capitol that left five people dead were circulated on other platforms in the wake of the riot. An example: “take zip ties with you, sneak up on them like ninjas and zip tie their hands and feet,” to which another poster replied: “around their neck, can’t get it off in time, they die.”

According to the AWS acceptable use policy customers may not use its services “for any illegal, harmful, fraudulent, infringing or offensive use.”

Parler launched in 2018 presenting itself as a free-speech haven and an alternative to other social media sites. The site saw its user numbers spike in recent months, as Twitter and Facebook tightened their moderation policies, especially around election and coronavirus information. The “Stop the Steal” campaign challenging President Trump’s loss gained momentum among Parler users, as did other conspiracy theories around the election. Parler’s less-strict moderation policies were part of its appeal for many users, but the lack of content moderation is a big part of why companies suspended their services.

When it pulled Parler from the Play Store, Google said while reasonable debate about content policy was possible, and it can be hard for apps to remove violative content immediately, “for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content.” Apple told the company that “the processes Parler has put in place to moderate or prevent the spread of dangerous and illegal content have proved insufficient. Specifically, we have continued to find direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action.”

Even with the app removed from the Play Store users could still install Parler on their Android devices by downloading it directly from Parler’s website and sideloading it. However, with its AWS services now disabled, the website and apps no longer work.

Parler CEO John Matze — who, according to his LinkedIn page worked for AWS for three months in 2017 — wrote in a post on Parler late Saturday that he believes Amazon, Google, and Apple “worked together to try and ensure they don’t have competition,” adding “They will NOT win! We are the worlds [sic] last hope for free speech and free information.”

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed that there was no coordination with any other companies.

Matze said in a separate post that the Parler could be offline for up to a week “as we rebuild from scratch.” Matze added, “You can expect the war on competition and free speech to continue, but don’t count us out.”

Perhaps the best-known recent instance of a site being deplatformed for violent content was social network Gab. After a gunman killed eleven people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, PayPal banned Gab from its platform, when it was revealed that suspect Robert Bowers had posted anti-Semitic threats on Gab ahead of the shooting. Apple rejected Gab’s application to appear in its App Store in 2016, and Twitter removed Gab’s access to its API. Google booted Gab app from its Play store in 2017 for violating its hate speech policy, and AWS cut ties with Gab in 2019, for violating its policy against hateful content.