Tech giants lock right platform: hounded for the time being

Google, Apple and Amazon are blocking the Parler network, which is popular with rights-makers. Why the process is good – but problematic at the same time.

Shot on January 7th: Parler will not be the last platform to fall back on Photo: Lucas / imago

The big tech companies from the USA have delivered a lesson on market power in the past few days. And at the same time a lesson on how to get a correct result, but in a completely wrong and dangerous way.

It’s about the Parler app and platform. This is something like a Twitter copy, with the first difference that Parler saves annoying rules and moderation of content entirely. And with the second difference that behind Parler, among other things, are influential financiers close to Trump. The combination makes the platform an attractive starting point for a spectrum of people with problematic worldviews.

There are users: inside who spread conspiracy theories, calls for violence, right-wing extremist and anti-Semitic statements. The platform received a lot of attention last June. At the time, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said on Twitter that she had set up a Parler account because conservatives were being “censored” on the established platforms.

After Parler was called for violence in the course of the attack on the Capitol, the big tech companies reacted in an unusual unit over the weekend – and locked the app out. First of all, Google and Apple banned the application from their app stores. And finally, on Monday night, Amazon also suspended its web hosting services for Parler. In fact, the website was not available on Monday.

Will it depend every time on whether Google and Apple take the platform seriously enough to block distribution through their app stores?

It is not the first time that a right-wing extremist platform has encountered problems in this way: As early as 2017, Google banned the Gab network app, preferably used by right-wing extremists and racists, from its store. Apple didn’t even allow them. The two cases have something in common, and they have something in common with the blocking of Trump’s Facebook and Twitter accounts: the platforms’ approach in these cases is correct – and yet extremely problematic.

Because no company should have so great market power alone that decisions are accompanied by such effects about which apps are accessible or which accounts are blocked.

Especially since Trump had not called for violence for a long time. And not only last week there were threats of violence and “calls to incite illegal acts” on Parler, which Apple cited as one of the reasons for being banned from the App Store. So why now? Because the procedure with the impending change of power in the USA suddenly became politically opportune? Or – that is the allegation of the Parler founder – because the platform could develop into a competitor?

Parler will not be the last platform on which right-wing actors resort to with their hate messages, racist remarks or calls for violence. Other providers, be it Rumble, Dlive or MeWe, are already gaining popularity. Will it depend every time on whether Google and Apple take the platform seriously enough to block distribution through their app stores? And what if users discover that apps can also be distributed in other ways?

In your own interest

In Europe there are already specific regulations, for example the law against hate crime passed by the Bundestag last year. It’s far from perfect. But in the USA it is more complicated: the assumption that the expression of opinions must be possible without limits and that false assertions are nothing more than an opinion is so deeply anchored in US society that even the idea, maybe a little bit to regulate has something downright heretical.

The corporations themselves also contribute to this: They like to argue that they shouldn’t decide what can be said and what cannot. That’s pretty bold, because the platforms already do it now if it suits them – for example when it comes to naked female chests.

But the work mandate is clear: the platforms themselves should ensure that they are given clear legal rules about which expressions they must set limits; what consequences they can draw if others – users or companies – do not adhere to them. It would be in their own best interest.

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