After the elections on November 3, a surge of millions of Facebook and Twitter users began switching to alternative social media platforms Parler and MeWe, which promise ad-free and/or uncensored experiences.
Parler and MeWe both claim to promote a safe space in which there are no ads, no spyware, and no political agendas. A common question asked is, can these sites overturn tech giants Facebook or Twitter? It is certainly possible, but not likely, with social media platforms such as Facebook garnering 2.7 billion active users. The recent ban on Parler on the 9th of January, after Apple and Google withdrew Parler from their app stores, only reinforces the stability of tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter.
Amazon provided the final blow when it announced it would be shutting off the servers for the “free speech” social-media app popular among conservatives and far-right influencers.
This prompted Parler to sue Amazon under allegations that Amazon's decision was politically motivated and breaches a contract between the two companies that entails Amazon's cloud-hosting service supporting posts published on Parler. The suit is seeking a temporary restraining order against Amazon web services to prevent the service from shutting Parler's account down at the end of the day.
Moreover, although these alternative platforms had grown since the elections, politics is not what these platforms revolve around. Social media has become such a huge factor in people’s lives that it may seem that people would want something new and fresh. But that's not the case. Parler and Mewe cater to people who are joining for privacy and the freedom to post and share anything they want.
Unlike Parler, MeWe isn’t trying to replicate every other social media site. Rather, MeWe wants to be the alternative to Facebook. This explains why Mewe is similar to Facebook’s user interface. Users can give thumbs up, hearts, and smiley faces to posts. They can share posts on their various feeds. There are user-profiles and separate pages, as well as groups, featured for people to congregate around a specific topic.
It has been apparent though, that these platforms have garnered appeal from mostly conservatives who are looking to express their opinions without being censored. President Trump, according to conservative sources, has indeed been censored by Facebook and Twitter over 65 times since May 2018 and was also recently banned from the platform, while Democratic president-elect Joe Biden has had no censors. But that doesn’t negate the fact that many of the tweets posted by the president have fallen under the category of misinformation under the terms and services of Facebook and Twitter. Some may argue that this is a bias against certain individuals, but others ask if is it really practical for platforms to have a completely neutral standing point?
US History teacher, Mr. Marc Babich said, “News media, whether it's the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, whatever, all have their biases. That’s no different on social media platforms as well. Human beings run these platforms, so it is only human nature for people to have a bias.”
Parler said its membership has jumped from about 4.5 million to about 8 million, and that number is growing. Among its users, about 500,000 were active two weeks ago, and about 4 million became active a week later, Parler said. Prominent Republican politicians and media personalities have also made a point of joining the new platforms.
But with the leniency and big emphasis on free speech can come issues, such as the controversy involving the social media site, “Gab”, where extremist ideologies were able to sneak their way into the platform, subsequently being banned from Apple’s and Google’s app stores. Gab hosted several high-profile far-right or “alt-right” users who have been banned from other services over what some consider to be hate speech or harassment.
Similarly, backers of the extremist ideology have also migrated to Parler in recent months, according to Media Matters for America, a watchdog group that monitors news reports and social media. Militia groups and white supremacists, such as the Proud Boys, who were one of the perpetrator groups of the historic Capitol attack. Extremist groups such as these have also increased their activity on alternative social media services. That begs the question, how far can we go with the idea of “freedom of speech”?
Mr. Marc Babich said, “I believe there should be limits to how far the idea of the ‘freedom of speech’ extends. I think that one thing in our country that we learn from the Supreme Court, is that freedom of speech is limited, this is something that has been openly established in our country. That also has to carry over to social media.”
As the New York Times puts it, It might be too early to know whether a widespread, permanent shift away from major outlets will last, especially given the reach of Facebook, Twitter, and Fox News.
Contrary to popular belief, apps such as Facebook or Twitter aren’t dying, and are only growing. While some may switch to the apps to simply express their beliefs, some are taking advantage of those freedoms to spread extreme ideas that would otherwise be censored. The migration of users switching to Parler and MeWe however, is not substantial enough to even cause a scratch on these tech giant’s reputations.