Why The Mass Migration To Parler is So Scary

On November 1st, most people hadn’t heard of Parler. Not because it’s a new social media platform, Parler has been on the grid since 2018. In June of 2020, the free-speech focused platform boasted a user base of 1.5 million. That’s not a small number for a fringe social platform — Parler clearly had created its own niche-space among it’s competition.

Now, fast-forward to Election week. Parler has 4 million users, surging in downloads (It was Apple’s #1 most downloaded app that week) as Facebook and Twitter cracked down on the spread of false information and conspiracy theories related to voter fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election.

Parler’s endorsement by right-wing pundits and personalities spreads far and wide. Everyone from Texas Senator Ted Cruz to the former grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, David Duke, have encouraged people to switch over to Parler as mainstream platforms’ ban on content grew deep enough to censor entire tweets from President Donald Trump’s account that contained false information about election fraud.

The mass departure of users from mainstream platforms to Parler has been urged by trusted right-wing figures, which has only served to catapult Parler to the forefront of newly emerging, less strict social platforms — winning the race against other free speech sites such as Gab or MeWe.

When you open the Parler app, the platform looks unassuming. Using Twitter as an unofficial blueprint for it’s design, Parler allows for up to 1,000 words per post with images and video. Posts can be shared in a manner similar to retweeting, which Parler calls “echos”.

It’s streamlined design makes it appealing to those looking for an oasis from the diet-free speech that mainstream platforms were offering. It’s familiarity and relative ease of use make it inviting enough for “normies” who keep up with social media to think “Why not? Conservative figures such as Kayleigh McEnany and Alex Jones have been on Parler for years now.”

Parler’s homepage

So what makes the mainstream social media migration to Parler so scary? Won’t these people simply be in their own echo-chamber now, unable to harm others with their misinforation?

It’s not that simple. The truth behind Parler’s facade and strong user base is much darker and more familiar than one might realize. The mass migration of “normies” and those who have only brushed elbows with soft-fringe conspiracy theories to a site with virtually no moderation will have consequences. We’ve actually seen this in right-wing ideology before.

This isn’t simply that those being subjected to the heavy hand of Twitter’s guidelines are being summoned to their own corner of the internet, wearing virtual dunce caps. While many of the people already on Parler are aware of the stage they’ve set with ideals born in some of the darkest corners of the internet, many joining the platform blindly will not be.

But if these new users are migrating to Parler because they feel scorned by other platforms — as if they’ve found a new virtual space to meet and mingle with other who share their same feelings — they’re likely to be easily persuaded into subscribing to the most extreme axioms of these movements and their causes— or as QAnon followers refer to it as — getting “Red Pilled”.

To understand the background of the 1.5 million users Parler cultivated before the Election week membership surge, you must go back several years into underground internet lore.

Imageboards.

Wikipedia definition of imageboards

Most people have heard of at least one imageboard: 4chan. 4chan came online in 2003, as the first English-language imageboard, an unofficial iteration of it’s Japanese counterpart, the original 2channel. As 4chan became known it’s vast amount of violent discourse, right-wing ideology and it’s aggressive overtaking of mainstream internet culture (Such as Pepe The Frog, a cartoon frog that became a symbol of the alt-right community due to it’s popularity on 4chan), internet servers began blocking 4chan from being hosted on their networks, in other words, taking 4chan offline.

Shortly after, the newest iteration of the chans came online: 8chan. This version of a chan imageboard was founded by a new owner, Fredrick Brennan, who has now publicly worked to distance himself from 8chan and have it removed from the internet. With 8chan came a more violent, 3D-style of it’s predecessors formerly 2D violent extremist content.

“Q” of the QAnon conspiracy theory universe first posted online via 8chan in October of 2017.

Besides being the birthplace of the QAnon movement, 8chan is also known for being the imageboard that Patrick Cruisius, the 2019 El Paso Wal-Mart shooter, posted his manifesto on just hours before the deadly incident occurred that killed 23 people.

8chan was removed from the internet later that year after three mass shootings could be linked to 8chan users posting their manifestos on the board, leaving daily 8chan users in the dark.

It would be three months before it’s new rebrand, 8kun, would emerge. But during the downtime, these users found other places to meet, including Parler.

****

Imageboards have had roots in underground internet culture for nearly two decades. Known as the birthplace of memes, while also home to many of the alt-right extremists who made those memes, imageboards are so simplistic in their format that they can often be difficult for mainstream audiences to navigate in the golden age of apps and software development. This leaves an entire untapped market of individuals from being exposed to these extreme theories, movements and ideologies — content that would never make it past the doorstep of mainstream social platform’s hate speech policies. These sects of extremism used to be stuck in the limbo of the chan-world, never to escape into our everyday, 3D reality.

“There are a lot of people out there that cannot function on the chans the way these people can, but they’re a massive untapped resource themselves. They have all sorts of connections, a lot of them could be retired intel or military, there’s so many people out there from older generations that are not involved in this fight.” — Reply All // “Country of Liars”

This demographic of users are, as Reply All noted, perhaps not the best at discerning fact from fiction online. But don’t let those comments fool you — many younger people who couldn’t function on the chans are migrating to Parler too, making the dynamic of their user surge a two-fold gain.

Both of these demographics are quite influenceable, seeing as they’ve already taken part of the bait, simply making them a fresh audience to use as a vessel to propel right-wing movements and belief systems out into the real world.

And Parler is the tool that’s going to help them do that. Maybe the people leaving mainstream social platforms don’t understand how imageboards work, but if they’re savvy enough to be on Twitter, they can understand how to use Parler.

And of course the final box and largest universal selling point of every social media platform has now been checked off for Parler — all of your friends are there.

Movements that have only ever been able to claw at the surface of mainstream social media are finally going to get what they want — mass exposure free of newly imposed censorship. Facebook and Twitter may have come down hard on the spread of disinformation over the last two weeks, but the truth is that the influence of right-wing conspiracy content was already allowed to thrive on their platforms for months with little to no repercussions. These platforms gave their user base a sample of what they could get if they joined this new group of thinkers, only to then say “too much” and take it away.

But the thing about these conspiracy theories is that they’re a rabbit-hole that always leave their followers wanting more. So people will flock to where the information that they want to hear is.

With fringe believers being exiled to a place that for years has been shaped by users from the darkest corners of the internet, one where extremism lives and thrives, these misfits have essentially been ushered directly into the arms of the leaders and birthers of these movements. Now, behind closed doors, they will be met with virtually no outside judgement, voice of reason, influence or supervision while they absorb new ideas and act upon them via any means they may choose.

Exactly like what happened with 8chan. Mainstream social platforms think they’ve rooted out the problem by nearly eradicating misinformation. And they’ve done a good job of keeping it out of more consequential lighting. While that gives their users more peace of mind — it’s driving the scorned to fester amongst themselves in a large cesspool of their wildly overwrought beliefs, all while having the ability to be constantly reaffirmed in those beliefs by each other all with just one click.

Parler could essentially be viewed as a chan-board in a business suit. And in just one week, there are now 2.5 million more people using it.

Freelance writer based in Chicago. Mostly baseball. Previously — The Athletic, MLB.com, Chicago Sun-Times, Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus.

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Cat Garcia // @TheBaseballGirl

Cat Garcia // @TheBaseballGirl

Freelance writer based in Chicago. Mostly baseball. Previously — The Athletic, MLB.com, Chicago Sun-Times, Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus.

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