I spent almost a week wading though the hate, lies and propaganda on the social networking site Parler in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
Why would I subject myself to this? you might be asking. Am I that much of a glutton for punishment?
No. I did it so you don’t have to or at least so you know what you’re getting yourself into if you make the move to Parler from Facebook or Twitter. Since Twitter began fact checking President Donald Trump, much to the chagrin of many of his supporters, conservatives have been flocking in droves to Parler. The site is essentially a Twitter clone that bills itself as a “free speech social network.”
The site is being billed as a Facebook or Twitter replacement for good, sound minded, hardworking conservatives. It’s not. It is a hotbed of radicals who want nothing more than to radicalize you too. Don’t be fooled. The problem here is not with the conservative slant of the site. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is the Nazis and conspiracy theorists.
Or as Bill Gates put it during an online forum Tuesday, “It’s a choice you’re making. If you want Holocaust denial, it’s going to be great for you.”
Yes, legitimate conservative commentators and lawmakers use this website to offer insight, but so do actual white supremacists and other extremists. Within 24 hours of signing up, Parler recommended pro-Nazi content to me. More legitimate users could cut down on Nazi content, but that’s unlikely.
Say, for instance, you have a favorite coffee shop where you meet on Sunday afternoons with friends, family or church members. One weekend, you find the shop has been allowing Nazis to meet in the back room. Do you stop going there? Do you check out the Nazi meeting? Do you ignore the Nazis and go about your normal routine? Do you tell everyone you go to the Nazi coffee shop?
Parler is a coffee shop with a sign on the door saying “Nazis welcome.”
The site recommends content with hashtags — this thing # — followed by trendy keywords or phrases. The more you click that content, the more similar recommendations the site gives. It’s a never-ending rabbit hole where the user is fed an endless string of rotten carrots dangling from the ends of sticks.
Every day I interacted with the site, I kept detailed notes. Here are some excerpts from what I’m calling my Parler Diary.
Tuesday, Nov. 10
After discussing with the newsroom staff on whether I should, I signed up for Parler. I made a new email address chose my username — @iamthenews because there’s no need to lie online. The account doesn’t exist anymore, so don’t try to follow me.
I followed several legitimate users like Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. Within a few clicks, I’ve led myself to some of their followers who are posting extreme right-wing content.
I shared a few posts so I would remember them and made my only post. It’s a single sentence that says “Say no to fake news”
I clicked on some of the more outrageous content labels like #bidencrimefamily and some more legitimate ones like #republican #police and #christian.
Then I dug around in the settings. For a place that is supposed to be a bastion of free speech, it is surprisingly easy to block users, filter out content that you don’t want to see and prevent people from commenting on your posts with facts or opposing viewpoint. So much for free speech.
Wednesday Nov. 11
This morning the site suggested I start following users who post content about QAnon, the baseless conspiracy that Trump is leading the fight against a shadowy cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles. So I did. The content was typical conspiracy theory bunk.
About 15 minutes later, the site was recommending anti-LGBT content. The vast majority of that showing up in my feed was from a user called Patriots for Life, which I at first assumed was a pro-life organization. I was wrong. QAnon is slowly hijacking the word patriot, I soon discover.
Patriots for Life was labeling quite a few posts with #whitelivesmatter so I clicked that too.
It didn’t take long for the Nazis to arrive. I was met immediately with a post declaring “If you are not WHITE and CHRISTIAN you are NOT an American.” That same user wanted me to pray at noon today — #prayer — that everyone who wasn’t white and Christian died. Even searching for prayer isn’t safe in this dark corner of the internet.
Thursday, Nov. 12
Today #factsmatter and #blacklivesmatter popped up in my list of suggestions.
Apparently facts don’t matter, because all I found was unsubstantiated rumors and fringe opinions telling me Joe Biden is a Marxist who is committing treason. I made sure to follow the treason poster just to see what he was up to.
My favorite “facts matter” post was “Donald Trump and American Patriots are fighting against the Luciferian Globalists who have Agenda 2030 as their goal.”
Apparently these Satan worshipers control the media as well as big tech and pharmaceutical companies. That’s why Twitter and Facebook began fact checking the president I suppose. Yeah.
Replace the term “Luciferian Globalists” with Jews, and you would have the exact same nonsense neo-Nazis have been spouting for decades.
The #blacklivesmatter story that left me scratching my head was from Breitbart News. It was headlined “Corporate Media Completely Ignored Story of Mother Killed by Black Lives Matter Protesters.” This is a blatant lie. The death of Jessica Doty-Whitaker was reported in The Indianapolis Star, part of Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country and owner of USA Today. It doesn’t get any more corporate than that.
Friday, Nov. 13
Since my only post is about ignoring fake news, #fakenews was in my list of recommendations today. I decided to see what they were saying. What I discovered is that the vast majority of people complaining about fake news, don’t seem to understand the difference between news, opinion and propaganda.
During the Cold War, public schools spent hours teaching schoolchildren how to distinguish between fact, opinion and propaganda. Perhaps the practice should be revived.
I’m also not so sure what all these attacks on the “mainstream” media on Parler are about. This seems to be targeted specifically at news reporters who provide facts that people don’t like. Those same angry people label the facts as propaganda. The criticism also is aimed at opinion columnists who people think are presenting facts.
I saw this earlier in my experiment when Glen Beck, who absolutely knows better, said The New York Times had reported something that appeared in an opinion column by a university professor. They’re not the same thing, and in large news organizations opinion and news departments are entirely separate.
The actual mainstream media is typically a group of five companies — Comcast, The Walt Disney Co., News Corp/Fox, Warnermedia (owned by AT&T) and ViacomCBS. Yes they own news stations, but they also produce movies, television series, comic books, etc.
I’ve yet to see anyone on this site rail against fake comic books — yes, they are a thing — or cancel their cellphone contract because of distrust in the media.
I wonder if these people realize they’ve just picked up the mantle and changed the words of the fringe extremists who used to complain about the “liberal, Jew-run media.”
Saturday, Nov. 14
I took a break from Parler over the weekend. I told myself I would drive by the office and check it. I’m only logged in there and refuse to use the site on my phone.
I didn’t. I needed a break.
Sunday, Nov. 15
I just couldn’t make myself look at it today.
Monday Nov. 16
Nothing really new in the feed this morning. I’m being recommended the same pro-Trump stuff, stories about election fraud and QAnon. When I click on the QAnon tag, there’s a surprising amount of spam, mostly pornography and someone trying to sell me a pill that’s “better than any blow I’ve snorted” with “intense focus liked Adderall.” I ignore it and keep scrolling.
I’m honestly surprised I haven’t encountered more white supremacy content this morning. Oh, there it is. I just had scroll a bit.
I’m leaving this Nazi coffee shop for good now. I recommend you stay away. Far, far away.
Josh Edwards is managing editor of The Daily Sentinel. Email him at email@example.com.