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AWS, Apple and Google bans prompt pro-Trump Parler app to fall offline

Free speech-championing social media site Parler has gone dark for violating Amazon, Apple and Google's terms of service, in light of reports of the platform's involvement in co-ordinating the attack on Capitol Hill

Silicon Valley continues to turn its back on stricken social media app Parler for endangering public safety by hosting content that could incite further violence, in the wake of last week’s deadly attack on the US Congress at Capitol Hill in Washington DC.

The attack, described by the incoming president of the United States Joe Biden as “one of the darkest days in US history”, saw president Trump supporters storm and ransack the building in protest at the outcome of the US Presidential Election in November 2020.

Five people were killed during the violence, including a police officer, which took place on Wednesday 6 January 2021, and since then details have begun to emerge about the role the Parler app may have played in enabling the perpetrators to co-ordinate the attack.

Since the app came to market in September 2018, it has been positioned by its creators as a social media site that champions users’ free speech rights, and has effectively served as safe haven for individuals whose actions and statements have resulted in them being banned from more mainstream services, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Since the Capitol Hill attack, Computer Weekly understands posts have continued to crop up on Parler that appear to be encouraging pro-Trump supporters to band together and storm Washington DC again on 19 January 2020 to disrupt the inauguration of president-elect Biden the following day.

This, in turn, prompted public cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) to terminate its hosting deal with Parler from midnight on Sunday 10 January 2021 on the grounds that facilitating these discussions is in violation of its terms of service.

This followed on from the news that Google and Apple had both taken steps to remove Parler from their respective app stores over the weekend.

“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms. It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service,” said the AWS Trust and Safety team in an email to Parler’s policy chief, obtained by Buzzfeed.

The letter goes on to cite 98 separate violations of Amazon’s terms of service over the “past several weeks” as being a further factor in its decision, adding that when offending content is brought to the site’s attention it is removed, but not always with the required urgency.

It also criticises Parler’s pledge to better police the site’s content by relying on volunteer moderators, claiming these individuals will be no match for the “rapidly growing number of violent posts” it houses.

Since news of the AWS shutdown broke, such posts have also included threats of violent acts being carried out against Amazon’s own datacentres in revenge.

Computer Weekly contacted AWS for further comment on its decision to cut ties with Parler, but the company said it has no comment to make at this time.

Parler CEO, John Matze, publicly responded by confirming that Amazon’s decision to boot it off its public cloud platform has prompted other tech firms to turn their backs on Parler, which means it is likely to remain offline for longer than originally anticipated.

Matze initially told the site’s supporters that Amazon’s decision could result in the site going dark for up to a week, as it set about rebuilding the platform “from scratch”, and had “many [alternative providers] competing for our business”.

He wrote: “This was a co-ordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the marketplace. We were too successful too fast. You can expect the war on competition and free speech to continue, but don’t count us out.”

In a follow-up statement, ahead of Parler going offline, Matze confirmed that other AWS alternatives, with the server capacity needed to host the site, have also “shut their doors” to the company.

“We will likely be down longer than expected. This is not due to software restrictions – we have our software and everyone’s data ready to go,” said Matze, in a statement circulated to the Parler user base.

“Rather it [is] that Amazon’s, Google’s and Apple’s statements to the press about dropping our access has caused most of our other vendors to drop their support for us as well. And most people with enough servers to host us have shut their doors to us. We will update everyone and update the press when we are back online.”

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