This week, ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration as president of the United States, Press Gazette planned to run a Platform Profile feature on controversial right-wing website Parler (which is said to be popular with outgoing president Donald Trump).
On 5 January, PR representatives of Parler said that its chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick was willing to be interviewed to talk about the rise of the platform and how it works with publishers.
On 6 January, pro-Trump protestors-turned-rioters stormed the US Capitol building. It soon emerged that Parler was one of the platforms used to plan and coordinate the rally-turned-“insurrection”.
Challenged over Parler’s role in an interview with the New York Times last week, chief executive John Matze said: “I don’t think it’s really good for planning events, to be honest. The way the format’s set up, it’s more for announcements like, hey, we have an event. The planning was mostly done on things like Facebook groups, or like a Telegram, or a WhatsApp would probably be better for planning.”
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of 6 January, Google and Apple removed Parler from their app stores. Amazon Web Services then stopped hosting the Parler website – citing posts that “clearly encourage and incite violence” – meaning it has effectively been switched off.
Because Parler has filed a lawsuit against Amazon, and is battling to return, we decided to push ahead with the Platform Profile despite Wernick apparently no longer being available for interview.
‘It wouldn’t make much sense for a quality news publisher to chase traffic on a product like Parler’
“I have never once heard a news publisher express any business interest in Parler,” said News Media Alliance president and chief executive David Chavern when asked about the platform by Press Gazette while it was still live on the internet.
“My members produce quality, fact-based reporting. I have never used Parler but, given some of the vocal users of the product, there may be an expectation that many users don’t value quality journalism.
“Our content is expensive to produce and there would be little reason to distribute it in places where it isn’t appreciated by the audience.
“Random digital traffic just isn’t very valuable, and that is true even for massive platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
“It wouldn’t make much sense for a quality news publisher to chase traffic on a product like Parler.”
Chavern’s assessment appears to explain why very few mainstream media publishers were active on Parler despite its growing popularity. According to SimilarWeb figures, its website visits jumped from 6.2m to 29.7m between October and November. It hit around 20m in December.
Which publishers are on the platform?
Mail Online, one of the only mainstream titles present on the platform, did not respond to requests for comment about its association with Parler. Its posts on the site mainly focused on US politics.
Other publications active on the platform included the Epoch Times (described by Axios as “a stridently pro-Trump publication with a flair for conspiracy theories and links to Chinese dissidents”), Russia’s RT and a host of alternative right-wing US news sites including Breitbart, Newsmax and the Gateway Pundit. In addition, some individual journalists – like Fox News host Sean Hannity – were popular on the platform.
SimilarWeb figures obtained by Press Gazette (below) show the websites that benefited from the most outgoing links from Parler. Many of the sites listed, including the New York Post, were not active on the platform.
Despite its growing traffic, most publishers were unwilling to associate with Parler before its removal from the internet.
If and when it returns, even fewer are likely to want to be associated with a platform so heavily linked to the events of 6 January.
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