Far-Right-Friendly Platform Parler Expected To Return To App Store Next Week
Months after dropping Parler from its app store, Apple has agreed to reinstate the platform if it makes certain updates to its content moderation practices, according to a letter it sent to two Republican lawmakers. Parler says it will relaunch next week with "several new safeguards" in place.
Apple was one of several companies to limit access to Parler — which is popular with far-right activists and describes itself as "the world's premiere free speech platform" — after the Capitol riots in January, citing its failure to tamp down on calls for violence and illegal activity.
Apple laid out the reasoning behind suspending and reinstating the app on Monday, in a letter responding to a March query from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.
The company said its app review team had found a "significant number" of Parler posts that violated Apple policies governing offensive or discriminatory user-generated content, including those that "encouraged violence, denigrated various ethnic groups, races and religions, glorified Nazism, and called for violence."
On Jan. 8, Apple said it wrote to Parler asking it to remove prohibited content and explain within 24 hours how it would make its content moderation practices compliant. Apple said it removed the app from its store in conjunction with the standard review process and because Parler did not provide a sufficient plan at the time.
Apple and Parler have since "engaged in substantial conversations" about how to bring the app into compliance and reinstate it in the store, Timothy Powderly, Apple's senior director of government affairs for the Americas, said in the letter.
"As a result of those conversations, Parler has proposed updates to its app and the app's content moderation practices, and the App Review Team has informed Parler as of April 14, 2021 that its proposed updated app will be approved for reinstatement to the App Store," he wrote.
Apple did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment on the letter, which was released by both Lee and Buck.
Parler said in a statement that plans to relaunch on the app store the week of April 26, after what it described as several months of dialogue with Apple and "new information that Parler provided to the public and Congress to demonstrate that the Company has always prohibited incitement and Parler had been unfairly scapegoated for the events of January 6th."
The company said it is implementing new mechanisms to detect posts that don't fall within First Amendment-protected speech, without making changes to its broader policies. And while the app store version of Parler will prohibit some posts that Parler allows, it said, such posts will still be visible to Web and Android users, the company added.
"Parler has and will always be a free and open forum where users could engage in the free exchange of ideas in the full spirit of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," said Mark Meckler, Parler's interim CEO. "We have worked to put in place systems that will better detect unlawful speech and allow users to filter content undesirable to them, while maintaining our strict prohibition against content moderation based on viewpoint."
Meckler also credited lawmakers Buck and Lee, saying their letter to Apple helped facilitate the upgraded app's relaunch.
Both celebrated the news on Twitter. Buck called the reinstatement a "huge win for free speech," while Lee said, "Conservative speech must not be silenced."
On March 31, @SenMikeLee and I sent a letter demanding answers about why Apple removed Parler from the App Store.— Rep. Ken Buck (@RepKenBuck) April 19, 2021
🚨Today, we received a response: Parler will be reinstated on the App Store. Huge win for free speech. pic.twitter.com/FQBDSSSFGk
Parler has gained popularity among far-right activists since its launch in 2018.
Experts say it became a hotbed of misinformation and conspiracy theories in the aftermath of the presidential election, and users took to the app, among other far-right-friendly websites, to plan and subsequently document the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Apple and Google both removed it from their app stores following the riots, while Amazon cut the site off from its Web hosting services. In its letter, Apple said it had acted independently of those companies.
Parler came back online in February with the help of revamped community guidelines and a new Web host called SkySilk. It remains banned from Amazon Web Services and recently filed its second lawsuit against the company.
As Politico reported, Google said in recent days that the app still does not comply with its rules against hate speech, incitement of violence and threats against elected officials, but could return to Google's store once it does.
"It's time for Google and Amazon to follow Apple's lead," Buck tweeted on Monday. "Stop the censorship."
Editor's note: Amazon, Apple and Google are among NPR's financial supporters.