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Forget all about TikTok or other up-and-coming social networking apps – the “hot” social network of the moment right now is Parler, the so-called “free speech” social network. In the run-up to the November election, Parler raced up the charts on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store out of seemingly nowhere. And, then, on November 8, Parler hit the #1 position on both Apple and Google, making it the most downloaded app in the world. But what is Parler, and why are so many people excited about using it?
The “free speech” social network
Simply put, Parler is a Twitter-like social media network. Once you sign up for an account, you can follow people just like on Twitter, and you can post short updates, just like on Twitter. And you can also see what people are saying in a dynamically updated news feed, just like on Twitter. But there’s one important twist here – Parler isn’t going to stop you from saying anything you want online, and it’s not going to ban certain people from the platform. So, in this important aspect, it’s actually the “anti-Twitter.”
In many ways, the runaway success of Parler is a reaction to what’s happening in the social media world right now. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been cracking down on certain kinds of content, blocking some content altogether via a practice known as “shadow banning,” and even de-platforming some users who dare to express certain ideas, thoughts or conjectures.
Primarily, these voices have been pro-Trump conservative voices, and that’s what makes things so crazy right now with social media. It’s not like Facebook is banning a bunch of nut jobs with crazy ideas about guns or vaccines – they are banning, censoring and blocking normal, everyday Americans who are taking advantage of their constitutional right to free speech. It’s for good reason that Parler proudly proclaims itself as a place where you can “speak freely and express yourself openly.” Parler has stated that a handful of Silicon Valley social media companies should not be allowed to control the complete flow of information, communication and news in the online world.
Big names moving to Parler
And people have loved this message, migrating to Parler in waves. It helps, of course, that some of the loudest, pro-Trump voices (including Fox News pundit Dan Bongino) have expressed support for the platform, and have encouraged their fans and followers to migrate with them to Parler. This is the way momentum tends to happen in the online world since it’s too much work to migrate all by yourself to a new platform. But if you can convince your entire online network to migrate with you at the same time, the whole user lock-in problem is easily solved. Imagine, too, what would be the online impact if President Trump announces that he’s officially leaving Twitter when he leaves the White House in 2021 and moving to Parler instead.
A short-term blip?
But let’s not drink all the Kool-Aid yet. We have seen this before, as a “hot” app suddenly takes off, reaches a plateau, and then fizzles away. While there is definitely a market for Parler, we have seen other apps race up to the #1 spot on Google or Apple and then fade away. Thus, it’s quite possible that what we are seeing now with Parler is simply a short-term blip. The crazy election season inflamed and polarized just about everyone on social media, and so it’s no surprise that we’ve seen an exodus away from certain popular social media platforms. But once cooler heads prevail and the contentious 2020 election fades away into history, is Parler going to be able to keep up the momentum?
Looking ahead to 2021
In many ways, the future success of Parler will be linked to whether or not it becomes openly embraced by everyone, and not just by disenfranchised conservative voters. Some people have already claimed that Parler is just a giant echo chamber, and lacks the competing views and viewpoints found elsewhere online. That might be fine for some people, but most people probably want a bit of diversity in what they read and see online.
So, if the public perception of Parler is that it is just some kind of “Fox News affiliate,” then it probably doesn’t have too much staying power. But if it manages to attract young, savvy social media users who want a real debate and discussion about what’s happening in the world, then Parler might just be the Next Big Thing in the social media world.