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Parler parlays conservative frustration with Facebook, Twitter into usage surge

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Parler parlays conservative frustration with Facebook, Twitter into usage surge

The political debate over content moderation practices at Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. has sent some prominent conservatives to Parler — a social network touted as an ideological alternative to those platforms. But analysts doubt Parler's new high-profile users will diminish the popularity of the dominant platforms anytime soon.

Founded in 2018, Parler advertises itself as the "world's premier free speech platform." Usage on the microblogging and social media service has surged in recent weeks as leading conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo urge their followers to migrate to the site, claiming that Facebook and Twitter censor conservative voices. The companies have denied that they discriminate based on ideology.

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Right-leaning social platform Parler touts itself as
an ideological alternative to Facebook and Twitter

Source: Parler

Though analysts say Parler's growing list of top conservative advocates boosts the platform's staying power, they do not expect the site to steal significant share from Facebook and Twitter long-term.

Usage spike

Between Nov. 6 and Nov. 10 — just a few days after the U.S. election — more than 4.5 million people created accounts on Parler, according to a statement from Parler CEO John Matze. On Nov. 9, the site counted more than 5 million active users, an eight-fold increase from the prior week, he added.

"Facebook and Twitter’s suppression of election information was a catalyst, causing many people to lose their trust. But the movement away from these platforms was already well underway," Matze said.

Facebook tallied 1.82 billion daily active users, or DAUs, for the just-ended quarter, up from 1.62 billion in the same period a year ago. Twitter's average monetizable daily active users, meanwhile, reached 187 million in the just-ended period, up from 145 million in the same period a year ago.

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Both Facebook and Twitter have taken more aggressive stances toward tackling harmful content amid the 2020 U.S. election cycle. Notably, the sites have added warning labels on tweets contesting the result of the U.S. presidential election and controversial claims regarding mail-in voting.

Parler eschews such fact-checking or moderation efforts. For instance, a Team Trump account on Parler declared that President Donald Trump had won the electoral votes for Pennsylvania, a state that major media organizations including the Associated Press, CNN and Fox have called for President-elect Joe Biden. But Parler has not taken the Team Trump post down, with Matze telling Cheddar that Parler does not take a top-down approach to policing content on its site.

Also unlike Facebook and Twitter, Parler does not use algorithms to customize users' viewing experiences, and instead shows people all posts from those they are following in reverse-chronological order. The platform also claims to collect little to no personal user data.

Achieving 'critical mass'

"I'm kind of surprised it's taken this long for there to sort of be a partisan destination for conservatives online," said Chad Brand, founder and president of investment advisory firm Peridot Capital Management. However, though Brand says Parler is likely "here to stay," he questions what kind of following the platform will be able to attract in the long run.

"The main question from sort of a big picture is, what kind of critical mass can they really achieve? Or is it more of a niche product with a few million people reading it?" he said.

Forrester analyst Jessica Liu, who has expertise in social marketing, noted that in today's increasingly crowded social media landscape, new social networks must provide consumers with a "unique value proposition" beyond what is currently offered in the marketplace. Such a requirement could make it difficult for Parler to achieve a sizable following, she added.

Liu pointed to past success in Facebook-owned Instagram LLC, which gained popularity through its initial sole focus on photos. Similarly, video-sharing app TikTok Inc. has achieved notoriety through its "novel video and music creation" features.

"Other than catering to a certain group of people, I have yet to see what value proposition or functionality Parler offers that makes it unique," Liu said in emailed comments.

'Fracturing' risk

Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at technology research and advisory firm Constellation Research, applauded Parler for its hands-off approach toward content moderation. However, he expressed concern that the platform's growing popularity among conservatives could lead to the formation of similar sites.

"What I'm personally worried about is the way that we're fracturing into even more, smaller microbubbles, and I think that's really contributing to the lack of understanding and empathy and tolerance [that are] the hallmarks of free speech," Wang said in an interview.

"And that's just a really dangerous place to be," he said.