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Apple to Parler: Moderate violent threats or face ban

Engadget logo Engadget 1/9/2021 Karissa Bell
a close up of a screen of a cell phone: This illustration picture shows social media application logo from Parler displayed on a smartphone with its website in the background in Arlington, Virginia on July 2, 2020. - Amid rising turmoil in social media, recently formed social network Parler is gaining with prominent political conservatives who claim their voices are being silenced by Silicon Valley giants. Parler, founded in Nevada in 2018, bills itself as an alternative to "ideological suppression" at other social networks. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images) This illustration picture shows social media application logo from Parler displayed on a smartphone with its website in the background in Arlington, Virginia on July 2, 2020. - Amid rising turmoil in social media, recently formed social network Parler is gaining with prominent political conservatives who claim their voices are being silenced by Silicon Valley giants. Parler, founded in Nevada in 2018, bills itself as an alternative to "ideological suppression" at other social networks. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Apple has threatened to ban the “free speech” social media app Parler following violence at the US Capitol this week. The app — a Twitter alternative popular among Donald Trump supporters and the far-right —  has faced renewed scrutiny for its role in the planning of the attacks.

On Friday, as pressure grew for Apple and Google to remove it from their stores, Apple said it would do just that if the company doesn’t rein in the violent threats on its app. Apple emailed Parler CEO John Matze saying that “Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity,” BuzzFeed News reported. The iPhone maker gave him 24 hours to create a “moderation improvement plan.”

“Apparently they believe Parler is responsible for ALL user generated content on Parler,” Matze wrote in a response posted on Parler. “Therefor [sic] by the same logic, Apple must be responsible for ALL actions taken by their phones.”

Parler, which spiked in popularity following the November election as Twitter and Facebook cracked down on election misinformation, has been called out for its role in the violence in DC this week. Apple said in its letter that it had “received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property.” 

Users have also turned to the app in the days since the riot to make a disturbing and violent threats about future plans. Screenshots of individuals calling for “firing squads” and threatening an armed response to Joe Biden’s inauguration have been circulating on Twitter, along with calls for Apple and Google to ban the app from their platforms. (Notably, Twitter cited “plans for future armed protests” in its decision to permanently suspend Trump.)

When pressed by The New York Times this week, Matze — who in the past has decried the “censorship” from Twitter and Facebook — repeatedly insisted he hadn’t observed Parler users using the app for illegal purposes. “If people are breaking the law, violating our terms of service, or doing anything illegal, we would definitely get involved,” Matze said. “But if people are just trying to assemble or they’re trying to put together an event… there’s nothing particularly wrong about that.” Parler didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Google has yet to weigh in on the app’s status. As The Verge points out, both companies have pulled apps associated with the far right in the past. Chat app Gab was removed from Google Play for hate speech in 2017. And Apple booted Alex Jones’ InfoWars app in 2018 (Google removed the app last year for spreading coronavirus misinformation). 

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