It’s a good thing that the Parler app is off the market. People took advantage of Parler’s largely unmoderated system to spread misinformation or to get away with flagrant hate speech. However, Parler being completely wiped from the Internet could be bad for future documentation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
For those unaware, Parler was a social media platform mainly used by conservatives or alt-right extremists. It prided itself on being the world’s first “free speech” app, and, to remain “viewpoint-neutral”, did not fact check or moderate posts the same way Twitter or Facebook do.
As a result, a lot of misinformation, hate speech and general garbage circulated on Parler. Though not nearly as popular as the aforementioned Twitter and Facebook, its numbers were starting to gain traction, and, by Nov. 2020, the website had over 10 million users.
However, things changed with the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. News started to break that Parler users publicly planned and cheered on the attack as it was happening. Facing mounting pressure, Google, Amazon and Apple officially pulled the app and website from its servers, making it virtually inaccessible to layman internet users.
I said it at the beginning of the article, and I’ll say it again: this is a good thing. Parler was used by and catered to alt-right fringe groups. Even non-extremists who used the app still believed the election was “rigged” and remained staunch Trump loyalists. At the very least, this is one less avenue for them to spread toxic ideas about the world on.
Yet Parler being taken down is not all good news. Because it was so instrumental in forming the Jan. 6 riot, the posts on Parler still need to be accessible for current legal proceedings and future documentation. Completely wiping it off the face of the Earth makes finding these posts a lot harder.
There have been efforts to secure Parler’s data. Twitter user @donk_enby was able to obtain and download 99.9% of Parler’s content before the app was shut down. She is currently working with Internet Archive and ArchiveTeam.Org to sort through and host the raw data for public consumption.
“In historical research, all information is useful,” ArchiveTeam.Org, when asked why they do what they do, explained. “Despite our best efforts, some information will always be lost, but what is saved may help form the foundations of future cultures.”
Still, it’s important to note that @donk_enby was only able to obtain any of this data due to prior experience with hacking. Without her efforts, it’s entirely possible that Parler would only exist in fleeting screenshots today.
A part of me wonders if Parler should have gone the route of Vine, in that the website remains accessible through specific URLs, but no one is able to upload or log into it anymore. There would still be problems with this approach — if the wrong people found out about Parler and read through its posts, they could make things even more violent. But that is also true for learning about any horrific event in history. After all, people read up on the Confederacy and agreed with it enough to proudly proclaim it as “part of their culture”.
There is still a lot that needs to be said about the Capitol riot, especially with how it relates to America’s history of violence and racism. People need to stay informed on these important issues to avoid making the same mistakes. Yet these conversations will also be kneecapped if the original posts that sparked the riot in the first place are completely wiped from public viewing.