LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Rioters who stormed the Capitol back in January documented the attack on the conservative social media platform called Parler. Amazon, which was hosting the site, feared additional violence and knocked it offline. That was almost the end, but then an obscure company came out of nowhere to save it. NPR's Bobby Allyn went to Los Angeles to talk to the man in charge of the company, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hello.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi, Bobby. What can you tell us about the company that brought Parler back online?
ALLYN: Yeah. It's a company called SkySilk. It's an IT firm that hasn't been around very long. And they do things like keep websites running, and they offer cloud storage. It's honestly an operation that has flown under the radar, even here - out here in Silicon Valley in tech circles. Kind of no one's ever heard of them. And I interviewed some of its former employees who said the firm is, quote, "sketchy"...
ALLYN: ...That the office was eerily empty. There were, like, surveillance cameras everywhere, and people would go into work every day and weren't even sure what their jobs were exactly. Now, the CEO of the company says SkySilk is not a shell company. He told me that specifically.
But at any rate, the only reason we're talking about this company is because it agreed to do what no other web hosting company was willing to, and that's strike a deal with Parler. And for those who don't know, Parler is kind of a conservative spin on Twitter.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell us why no other company was willing to work with Parler after Amazon kicked it offline.
ALLYN: Yeah. So Amazon said goodbye, and then six other Web hosts said the same thing. No, thanks. We're not interested in doing business with you. And that's because it really became a pariah in the tech world. It was seen as a platform that was growing fast but just could not manage itself at all. I mean, it let loads and loads of problematic content thrive - white nationalist groups, disinformation, hate speech and harassment. And Web hosts saw that as a real liability.
Now, Facebook, Lulu, we should note, you know, was a major organizing tool for what led to the Capitol riots, but Parler has gotten so much of our attention because of it's anything-goes approach to content on the site.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why did this little IT firm that nobody really ever heard of that was called sketchy by its, you know, own employees decide to do this?
ALLYN: Yeah. So I went to Burbank to try to figure that out. I talked to SkySilk's CEO. It's this guy named Kevin Matossian. He's a film producer who's only been leading the company for a couple of months. And he told me he's doing business with Parler as a way of sticking it to Big Tech companies like Amazon.
KEVIN MATOSSIAN: It scares us and concerns us that big technology can turn you on and turn you off. We used to joke about this. Write them off. You can make you disappear. Well, now big technologies can make you digitally disappear.
ALLYN: So I said to Matossian, OK, OK. But what about all the hate speech and disinformation and the really violent and ugly stuff that flies around Parler? Are you endorsing that? And he said no, but he thinks the answer to bad speech is not censorship but rather more speech, no matter how vile it is.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Parler is now back online. Is it as permissive with what people can share, including violent threats as before?
ALLYN: I mean, the short answer is yes. I mean, right now, the only kind of content that they actually are banning is content that is illegal, content that breaks the law. Other than that, anything goes. And so, you know, Parler remains a place that is popular for really two kinds of people, Lulu. One group are people who are fed up with Big Tech and say deplatforming anyone is an abuse of power, and a second group of people who see policing online speech as, you know, a step too far. And Parler's value add (laughter) is that they promise to do as little of it as possible.
Now, experts who study extremism and disinformation have some obvious concerns with this laissez-faire approach. I mean, unfettered speech online might sound great to some. But as we have seen, it can lead to some really scary real world consequences.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. That's NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thank you very much.
ALLYN: Thank you.
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