So, you’ve been hearing some mixed messages about a new social media platform called Parler and you’re wondering if there’s some connection to an old poem about a certain talkative spider and an innocent fly. In short, the answer is no. (Although, the app’s creators have compared it to a parlor room where an open friendly chat can happen.) However, depending on which side of the political divide you find most comfortable, you may hear some very different opinions about this app.
So what exactly is Parler? And what should a thoughtful mom or dad know about it?
What is this Parler thing?
Well, first of all, the Parler app gives users an open door to a free microblogging social network service that’s structurally very comparable to Twitter. It allows users to share short messages of up to 1,000 characters in length—which is about four times the length of the average tweet. Users can also follow the feeds of others, and they can add posts written by others to their own feed via a function called “echo.” Again, all pretty similar to Twitter. The service also includes direct messaging.
What sets Parler apart?
With an estimated 2 to 3 million users, Parler’s audience is much smaller than Twitter’s, which has about 166 million. Also, while Twitter and Facebook have extensive policies about permitted and banned topics and language, Parler says it’s taking a less restrictive approach.
To fully understand that aspect of things, we probably need to start by taking a look at your average Twitter user. According to Pew Research, Twitter users tend to be younger and lean to the political left. About 70% of their users tend to get their political news only from the site itself. And compared with other U.S. adults on Twitter, the most active 10% of Twitter users are much more likely to be women and more likely to say they regularly tweet about politics.
John Matze and Jared Thomson—the guys who gave birth to the Parler app in 2018—have said they designed their app for the other people who don’t generally get heard on the likes of Twitter. In fact, in this day when debates about free speech, fake news and censorship have taken center stage in the public arena, Parler presents itself as a “non-biased, free speech-driven” alternative. But while the site seems set up to cater to right-leaning, politically engaged adults, teens can sign up, too. Like most social media networks, the site technically requires that you be at least 13 years old to join—though the sign-up process doesn’t actually ask for your age at all.
Does that mean it’s all politics all the time?
No … but yeah, kinda. A user sets up their initial experience by choosing from a list of politicians, news reporters and publications that they might normally gravitate toward, and then they’re given a number of feeds they might like to read right out of the gate. So, with the likes of Sean Hannity and Ted Cruz on the lists, and publications such as the Washington Times and Breitbart News taking prominent positions, you’re bound to get some political news, and it’s bound to have a decidedly conservative slant. (More progressive options are almost wholly absent.)
Parler plusses and problems
Let’s face it, there are quite a few potential problems with social media in general. Social media users must often deal with trolls, bullies and negative comments coming from anonymous sources. That’s the nature of the beast. The good side of anonymity is that you can express yourself without reprisals. The bad side of anonymity is that it allows unknown people to throw a lot of dirt and stir up angry bickering without any accountability. If you want to avoid all of that, then turn your back on social media altogether and walk quickly away.
Some reports have suggested that it’s harder to be anonymous on Parler. And because it requires a two-step sign-in process—you give an email and phone number to join—it does offer at least a little protection in that direction. The less anonymity users have, goes the theory, the less likely they’ll be to make like miserable for everyone else. If you want to receive a “verified” classification—which the service calls becoming a citizen—requires sending the service a copy of the front and back of a driver’s license or picture ID plus a selfie photo. Some people like this idea, others, not so much.
The Parler creators suggest that their system allows freedom of speech while curbing the torrent of relentless attacks. But in practice, that two-step process isn’t much of a deterrent to determined trolls. Get a new email account and give the Parler folks a phone number, and you’re free to roam as you wish … under whatever name you’d like to give. The “citizen” track seems to be far less anonymous. But teens turning over IDs and pictures to anyone comes with its own set of concerns.
So, is that good or bad for teens?
On one hand, a wee bit less anonymity might help keep teen users clear of many of the troll-like behaviors that they might encounter on other sites. On the other hand, parents who let their kids use Parler should make sure they talk and walk through what constitutes wise use, wise choices and wise posting on an app like this.
The fact is, the creators of Parler have made it clear that their app is not designed for people looking for a lot of hand-holding of any kind. Yes, the site still boasts some “community guidelines” (you can’t post pornography or threaten to kill anyone on Parler, for instance), and the makers still reserve the right to remove content and user access “at any time and for any reason or not reason,” according to the site’s user agreement. But the founders have stated that they plan to allow posts that may be removed, blocked, or tagged as “misinformation” on other sites. “There are going to be no fact-checkers,” Matze told Forbes. “You’re not going to be told what to think and what to say … I think that’s all people want. That’s what they like.”
That sort of unfiltered political view certainly has its appeal for many. Whether it appeals and fits for you and yours may be worth a discussion … in your own family parlor.