Parler co-founder and CEO John Matze, who helmed the company through its explosive 2020 growth and even more explosive 2021 deplatforming, has reportedly been fired.
The company board ousted the former executive last Friday, The Wall Street Journal was first to report. In a statement, Matze said he “met constant resistance” to his “product vision,” his “strong belief in free speech,” and his view of how Parler should be run, adding that he advocated for “more product stability and what I believe is a more effective approach to content moderation.” Matze claimed to have been within “days” of bringing Parler back online at the time he was ousted.
Matze’s original approach to content moderation—i.e., not having any—is what landed Parler in hot water last month and resulted in it eventually being kicked off the entire Internet.
Parler launched in 2018 as a “free speech” (i.e. largely unmoderated) alternative to Facebook and Twitter. Through 2019 and 2020, it picked up a base of politically conservative and right-wing users who felt, mostly incorrectly, that other platforms, especially Twitter, were suppressing conservative speech.
Leaving a pixel trail
During and after the US presidential election last November, extremists flocked to Parler as other platforms such as Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook cracked down on the sharing of QAnon-related content and false claims about the election outcome. Posts on Parler calling for violence and bloodshed in Washington, DC, picked up early this year, and several users of the platform both called for and were active participants in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, which left five dead and hundreds injured.
Google pulled Parler from the Android app store two days after the riot at the Capitol, citing the platform’s failure to moderate posts that contained explicit threats of or calls to violence. Apple followed suit the next day, pulling Parler from the iOS App Store for similar reasons. The final blow for Parler came that same weekend, when Amazon booted it from AWS Web hosting, taking it offline entirely.
Parler filed suit against Amazon as it went dark, petitioning the court to reinstate it on the grounds that the tech giant broke both antitrust and contract law when it stopped providing service to Parler. However, subsequent filings in the case made clear that Amazon had warned Parler for months about some of the egregious content on the site, and a judge rejected Parler’s plea for immediate reinstatement.
“Hardened to cancel culture”
Matze hoped to bring Parler back online quickly, he said, and to have it restored to both the Google and Apple mobile app stores. To that end, he proposed expanding automated content moderation on the platform as well as a full ban on people and groups tied to designated domestic terror organizations, adding, “there are a lot of neo-Nazi groups that would fall under that category.”
Conservative talk-show and online personality Dan Bongino, who has invested in Parler and who is on the board, dismissed Matze’s claims.
“John decided to make this public, not us,” Bongino said in his online talk show. He added, “We could have been up in a week if we just would have bent the knee” to Amazon, Apple, and Google. He and the rest of the board, however, apparently have no interest in meeting tech platforms’ terms. “The vision of the company as a free speech site and a stable product, immune and hardened to cancel culture, was ours.”
Update 4:11pm EST: After we published this story, Parler chief policy officer Amy Peikoff sent Ars a statement describing Matze’s characterization of his firing as “inaccurate and misleading.”
Parler leadership “worked tirelessly to build a resilient, non-partisan platform dedicated to freedom of expression, civil discourse, and user privacy,” Peikoff said. She called Parler “a beacon in today’s fight for free speech” and said the company is actively working on its relaunch and looks forward to welcoming users back “very soon.”