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Parler's New iPhone App Will Block Posts That Apple Prohibits

NOEL KING, HOST:

The social media network Parler calls itself a platform for free speech. Apple and Google banned the app from their stores after the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. They said Parler allowed violent and offensive posts. But now it is coming back, and NPR's Shannon Bond asked, what has changed? I should note, Apple and Google are among NPR's financial supporters.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: When pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol, many of them documented it in videos posted on Parler.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED RIOTER #1: Here we go. Here's the next rush.

BOND: Breaking doors, shattering windows, milling around the rotunda.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED RIOTER #2: Inside the Capitol building.

BOND: Parler was already known as a hotbed for baseless conspiracy theories and election fraud claims. But for the big tech companies, January 6 was the last straw. Apple and Google kicked Parler out of their app stores, basically cutting it off from smartphones. Amazon refused to host the site anymore, effectively booting it off the Internet altogether. The tech companies all said Parler was violating their rules against harmful content, and that really hurt Parler. Its website eventually got back online, but it was buggy and really hard to use.

JARED HOLT: You know, some people - maybe the most devout free speech absolutists or whatnot - will take those extra steps to get to Parler, but it's a numbers game, you know? Most people will not.

BOND: Jared Holt studies online extremism at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. So overnight, Parler went from one of the most downloaded apps - claiming 20 million users, fueled by Trump loyalists and conservative influencers who say Facebook and Twitter censor them - to nearly impossible for most people to find and use. Now, more than three months later, Parler says it's made changes to satisfy Apple, but it's still sticking to its free speech mantra. Holt says the company didn't have much choice.

HOLT: It is such an advantage to them that they are willing to compromise a bit on their original vision for this platform.

BOND: Apple demanded Parler do more to keep offensive and discriminatory posts off its platform, so Parler says its new iPhone app will block posts that Apple prohibits. But those same posts will still be on Parler's website and its Android app, which, unlike the iPhone version, can be downloaded outside of Google's app store. To be clear, Parler says it does not allow illegal content, and it's put new safeguards in place to detect it. Shannon McGregor studies social media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She says Parler's trying to walk a fine line, following Apple's rules while satisfying people who were attracted by its anything goes philosophy.

SHANNON MCGREGOR: If the appeal of Parler was some unfettered free speech zone, then will they want to be on an app where the most extreme views, the most hateful and violent views, are not going to be allowed any longer?

BOND: And if those motivations conflict, which version of Parler will win? Even if Parler is no longer as popular as it once was, it's still a potent political symbol as Congress looks to crack down on Silicon Valley. To many Republicans, it's a prime example of how tech giants abuse their power. Here's Senator Mike Lee of Utah at a hearing last week.

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MIKE LEE: If Big Tech is going to take a side in the culture wars or in political conversations, Big Tech should be prepared for the greater scrutiny that will come with that unfortunate choice.

BOND: And that means Parler will continue to play a role, no matter how many people actually use it. Shannon Bond, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBLAB AND AZALEH'S "VIDURA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.