Opinion: Big Tech’s Parler trick — Pretend content moderation matters

Kathy Hoekstra

A failure to moderate content.

For this purported reason, big tech’s Big Three — Amazon, Apple and Google — systematically scrubbed the social media app, Parler, from the face of the internet.

Amazon said Parler was "unwilling or unable" to properly filter content from its website that Amazon deemed dangerous, so the tech giant wiped Parler from AWS cloud servers. Google explained that it stripped Parler from the Play Store because the upstart app failed to "implement robust moderation for egregious content."

Apple, in a moment of apparent decency, warned Parler on Jan. 8 that it needed to provide content moderation guidelines, only to yank the rug out from underneath Parler by the next day. Apple in its statement about Parler’s unceremonious boot from the App Store, Apple said, "Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people's safety."

The decisions by Apple and Google prevented Parler App downloads on Android or Apple phones — used by more than 99% of Americans. Amazon's move meant users could no longer reach Parler's website.

Parler went from being the Apple store’s number one app to virtually non-existent in the span of just one day.

The tech giants essentially blamed Parler for the sickening attack on the United States Capitol and destroyed the entire platform as punishment. But anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account could tell you that Parler — social media’s new kid on the block — could not have been the sole facilitator of communication between rioters.

Parler went from being the Apple store’s number one app to virtually non-existent in the span of just one day, Hoekstra writes.

Many protesters used Twitter to discuss their plans for attending the protest in Washington. Several "Stop the Steal" tweets from the days leading up to the riot are still posted on Twitter. Protestors also used Facebook groups to coordinate travel to Washington. And so many rioters used Facebook and Twitter during the siege of the Capitol, the FBI is using the two social media websites to help its investigation. 

Where was the content moderation for Facebook and Twitter? Have Google, Amazon and Apple looked into this?

Of course not. After all, the rioters broke into the Capitol, not the social media companies they used to plan their participation in the riot.

Eviscerating Parler for inadequate content moderation is nothing more than textbook rock throwing in the Big Tech’s collective glass house.

Amazon, like Parler, likely had customers use their website before attending that protest. In fact, even today, with a few seconds of your time and a few taps on your phone, you can still purchase Trump flags and a shirt that says: "Make America Count Again: If You Can't Beat Us, Cheat Us!"

Google likely had users using Google Maps to find their way to the Capitol. Plenty of rioters wielded Apple phones to take selfies in the building they tried to destroy. The same could likely be said for their products being used in the riots last summer — even though all three companies stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter as cities burned.

Amazon, Apple and Google have long hosted websites and apps that exploit children, give dictators a platform, and allow other harmful, criminal behavior to go unchecked while arguing it’s not their job to edit the internet.

Yet they ripped Parler from the face of the internet for failing to meet a standard to which no one else is held. Not only is this unfair, but it won't change anything.

quick preview of security measures needed for Joe Biden's inauguration makes it clear that eliminating Parler did not eliminate the threat of extremists. All it did was eliminate the number one app in Apple's app store — an app used by plenty of folks who had nothing to do with the riots in Washington. 

The rise and fall of Parler is a chilling lesson for small businesses everywhere: Amazon, Apple, and Google control access to the internet. If this big tech triumvirate decides a company should not exist, they can literally pull the plug on it. And if it’s that easy to obliterate a small social media startup, what’s next?

Kathy Hoekstra is a communication specialist who lives in Michigan.