As people have been banned from one major platform after another, one common response has been, “build your own platform”. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Platforms need infrastructure to run on, and if every hosting provider decided to not offer someone service, corporate censorship can kill a website. Parler made the mistake of tightly coupling their website to Amazon Web Services (AWS). The weaponization of the courts essentially made their contract with AWS entirely worthless1. Parler’s response makes me question a lot of their core business decisions, and their future.
People may have flocked to the new network because Parler promoted themselves as an alternative to the current social media landscape. Yet Parler has made critical mistakes with their infrastructure stack, and arbitrary decisions about what content to allow. Parler also suffers the same failure points as any centralized social media platform. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, “This is not the free platform you are looking for”.
Parler has Zero Discoverability for Average Users
Twitter didn’t start off as a means for celebrities to broadcast their every meaningless and empty thought to the masses. I first used it as a means for group chats over SMS, long before the era of modern smart phones. Parler started off by promoting it as a means to listen to prominent conservatives that had either been removed, or were in danger of being banned, from other platforms.
It’s web interface doesn’t lend itself to discoverability of other random users. The discover tab only seems to show posts with very high numbers of likes or reposts. It can be a useful platform for popular content creators who can convince many to follow them via other means (websites, mailing lists, videos, etc.), but horrible for regular users to post interesting content and interact with each other. It lacks a ranking system, such as those seen on Hacker News or Reddit. While link ranking sites have their own problems, at least they allow for a means for discovery.
Hosting at Scale
Parler thought it was safe with AWS, which was a completely idiotic stance to take. Judging by Parler’s server requirements, they were operating at a fairly massive scale2. Even if they weren’t using any Amazon specific services that would lock them to a particular hosting provider, the size of their infrastructure was not trivial and would be difficult to migrate. Parler was rejected by every big tech company at once, with services being dropped by Google, Apple, Microsoft, Twilio3 and anyone else who could potentially host their infrastructure at the scale they needed4.
Parler should have prioritized purchasing physical hardware in at least one data center once they started growing to the scale they were at. It should have been obvious from the recent big tech purges, that the industry was not trustworthy to their customers. Parler had no viable disaster recovery plans for what seemed to be a predictable situation. Even though it seemed clear that Amazon violated their contract, and didn’t even provide Parler a curing period to resolve disputes, the courts denied any injunctive relief1. This is a clear indication of how the legal system has been weaponized to side with tech giants.
The Return to Mediocrity
When Parler did eventually come back online, it retained none of its original posts. Each user was given a completely clean account. While Gab lost tons of posts due to incomplete backups and poorly written software, Parler made an intentional decision not to port anything over other than just accounts. Furthermore, their new automated content moderation system is really dumb. It blocked me from posting a link to my article about how Facebook is hostile to smaller platforms, most likely due to a primitive word filtering system.
Centralized platforms are never going to be able to promote the ideas of truly free expression. They will all have their own sets of restrictions. Despite what section 230 may claim, Internet platforms are publishers, choosing which content to allow and which to suppress. Minds recently banned people who post lewd anime girls5, and MyPillow’s CEO has stated his new social network will ban people who use swear words6. The solution to the closed gardens and censorship of the big centralized platforms are not more centralized platforms. Although Parler and others can leverage branding and advertising to grow their names, the ultimate solution to big tech is to somehow build the same network effects for independent, decentralized, open source platforms.
Parler is Dumb
Parler is a dumb platform, but not for the reason most people are claiming. It’s not because of some kind of far-right, white-supremacist user base. It’s dumb because they have made terrible technology decisions, questionable business decisions, atrocious UI design choices, and don’t really stand behind their original views on the freedom of speech. Their leadership seems to be as poor and idiotic as Andrew Torba, the founder of Gab. They spent more effort in promoting themselves and gaining popularity, than in serious considerations around technology and innovation.
Their return to the Internet is reminiscent of when Digg released Version 4 in 2010, which deleted all their users’ content, causing a large swath of them to leave for Reddit. The ultimate solution to Internet censorship should not come from some new company or improved legislation. It needs to come from promoting decentralized technology to average people. Building a network effect to grow small federated platforms could help prevent any one player from dominating control over the new world of digital town squares.
Anyone wanna know what Parler are trying to put together from other hosting providers that aren’t AWS?…. 16 January 2021. @th3j35t3r. Twitter. ↩
Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson explains how he decided to face off with Parler . 13 January 2021. Krazit. Protocol. ↩
Parler CEO on suspensions from Big Tech: ‘This can happen to anyone’. 10 Jan 2021. Fox News. ↩
Unsurprisingly Minds started banning people over anime girls, these social media promising free speech ALWAYS fail the simplest litmus test…. 19 March 2021. @BepDelta. Twitter. ↩
MyPillow CEO’s free speech social network will ban posts that take the Lord’s name in vain. 14 April 2021. Brandom. The Verge. ↩