With Parler Back, Are We Sure Tech is a Monopoly?
The free speech platform Parler is back online.
A little after a month after Parler was removed from the Android and Apple app stores and had its contract terminated by Amazon Web Services (AWS), the free speech platform is now available to be accessed again via web browser.
The platform has been able to relaunch by relying on lesser-known companies to host its content. Epik is hosting its domain while Skysilk Cloud is providing the company with its cloud computing service.
In light of Parler’s return, it's worth reviewing some of the arguments about the power of big tech and their ability to censor companies which culminated in an antitrust lawsuit by Parler against AWS.
To believers in the anticompetitive narrative, AWS and other companies' refusal to do business with Parler was just another example of big tech flexing its muscle to crush an upstart company that didn’t conform to the values of Silicon Valley. Parler‘s lawsuit mimicked that line of thinking, arguing that AWS violated the Sherman Antitrust Act in an effort to help Parler’s competitor, Twitter.
Parler’s claims were fundamentally flawed both on a technical and rational basis. No court has ever found a company to be a monopoly with less than 70 percent of the shares in a particular market. AWS, while the largest player in cloud computing space, has only approximately one-third of the total market. There are many competitors, and the growth of the market sees new entrants regularly. Furthermore, in Parler’s own court filing, it admitted to being in talks with “at least six extremely large potential providers'' to host the site. If the market was really as anti-competitive as suggested, would Parler even have six large providers to reach out to?
Furthermore, Parler’s suggestion that AWS banned Parler to help Twitter holds even less merit. AWS, as is pointed out in the judge’s ruling, doesn’t even host Twitter’s feed.
Now that Parler is back online, these arguments have even less validity.
Parler is back online not only because the market for hosting and cloud computing is vibrant, but because Parler has also agreed to update its moderation policies — the reason it was removed from app stores and AWS in the first place.
In Parler’s new guidelines for content moderation policies, not only does Parler claim they will remove “ threatening or inciting content,” but they say they’ll use filters to remove content used to harass or attack people on the platform. They have even set up an appeal board to review challenges to content that is removed, similar to Facebook.
Skysilk’s statement on hosting Parler seems to be contingent on Parler’s better monitoring of its platform and more strict adherence to its own community guidelines. Had these community standards been applied in the first place, Parler may not have been removed from the app stores and AWS may not have refused to host the service.
Parler’s month-long absence from the internet raises important questions about the culture of free speech and technology, but these questions fall well outside the realm of monopoly concerns.
With Parler back online, its success or failure will come down to whether they can create a platform where people will want to spend their time and attention.
Eric Peterson is the Director of the Pelican Center for Technology and Innovation in Louisiana. He lives in New Orleans with his cat Margaret Scratcher. Follow him on Twitter at @Eric_Peterson_.