What If Cambridge Analytica Owned Its Own Social Network? CA Backer Rebekah Mercer Admits She's A Co-Founder Of Parler

from the oh-look-at-that dept

Since the election, Parler has found renewed life among Trump supporters who feel that... [checks notes] being fact-checked, or limited for sharing debunked and dangerous conspiracy theories, is somehow an attack on... something (reality: it's an attack on their delusions). And as Parler has gotten a new round of attention, some questions were raised about the funding behind it. After all, there was no big VC or known investor behind the company, so it wasn't entirely clear how it was surviving. There was a crazy and incorrect conspiracy theory making the rounds that it was owned by Trumpists' favorite bogeyman, George Soros. That's not true, though it would have been completely hilarious if it had been.

Late last week, a Twitter thread made the rounds trying to tie Parler's founding to Russia, though it involves a lot of conjecture and guilt by association, rather than facts.

But then, on Friday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Parler was being funded by the Mercer family, the same family who funded a bunch of pro-Trump projects, including Cambridge Analytica, Breitbart, and, well, Trump's own presidential campaign. Over the weekend, Rebekah Mercer took it up a further notch by claiming that she was the co-founder of the company along with CEO John Matze.

That's a post from Rebekah Mercer saying:

John and I started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended, and also to create a social media environment that would protect data privacy. Benjamin Franklin warned us: "Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech." The ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining, and for the protection of free speech online. That someone is Parler, a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy.

That's... information that is brand new. Prior to this weekend, it was always claimed that the company was founded by Matze and a friend, Jared Thomson. In the past they had claimed that they founded it together, and had some support from a "small group of close friends and employees." But they never mentioned the Mercers. That's some "friends."

Also, Rebekah Mercer's claims are pretty ridiculous when you pick them apart. Despite claiming that they're setting up "a neutral platform for free speech" we know perfectly well that's utter garbage. As we've seen, they've got no problem banning people they dislike for ideological reasons. In fact, despite claiming on the website that they would only take down content if it violated the 1st Amendment, the company quickly realized that it would have to ban a lot more than that.

My favorite example of this was in a Forbes interview, where Matze admits that he's sitting around banning trolls as quickly as he can:

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m eating: I haven’t eaten all day,” says Parler founder John Matze, devouring a late lunch. His social media app—a new favorite of President Trump’s and other GOP leaders—has been under siege for the past few hours. “I’m sitting here like, banning trolls.”

By trolls he means teenage leftists who’ve flooded onto Parler....

As we said, they've sort of speed-run the content moderation learning curve that every website goes through when they claim to support free speech. They insist they'll allow anything. Then they start banning spammers. Then trolls. And, that's the same damn thing Twitter does, and even here they're admitting that they're banning "leftist trolls." In fact, over the past week or so we keep having people showing up on our article from the summer about Parler banning users it doesn't like and screaming at us about how it's okay because they're just banning trolls. But, that's the point. That's what Twitter is doing too. Except that Twitter isn't complaining about ideological trolls.

It's only Parler that seems to be staking out an ideological claim, trying to ban "leftist" trolls after being cofounded by one of the most extreme partisans around, who laughably claims that Parler will be neutral.

The other incredibly ridiculous claim is that Parler is a response to "the ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords" and that it is trying to "lead the fight against data mining." Or that Parler is "a beacon to all those who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy." We already covered how its views on free speech are not very different from other social media platforms, but the privacy claims are ridiculous as well.

Remember, Cambridge Analytica's entire claim to fame was collecting a shit ton of data on people by abusing the rules on an academic's personality quiz on Facebook, and then use it to target political messages. Remember, part of the reason Facebook got hit with a huge FTC fine was that it had let Cambridge Analytica extract a bunch of data it had promised not to.

Former Cambridge Analytica data expert Christopher Wylie noted this weekend that when he was there, the Mercers had always wanted their own social network in order to cut out the middle man and collect the data directly (and distribute propaganda directly). And now they've got that:

Oh, and they've got access to a lot more private data than Facebook, Google or Twitter do. Hell, Matze practically brags to a Forbes reporter how he has all sorts of private data on the "leftist trolls" he's trying to ban:

Matze knows the leftists’ ages of the trolls, as he calls them, because some verified their accounts, coughing up selfies and driver’s licenses or passports (a set of highly unusual requirements for proving identity and registering for an online account).

Twitter doesn't require you to upload your driver's license. Also, if you want to have a verified account on Parler, you're required to hand over your Social Security Number as well.

Basically, the Mercers are building a huge database of gullible idiots that they can now market propaganda to directly, cutting out the Facebook middleman. I'm curious how it was a huge problem when it was happening by Facebook, but somehow fine when it's all directly on the Mercer's own social network?

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Filed Under: content moderation, free speech, john matze, mercer family, privacy, rebekah mercer, social media
Companies: cambridge analytica, parler


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  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 16 Nov 2020 @ 9:53am

    Given how deeply entwined the Mercers are with the alt right as a whole, I would be more shocked if she wasn't involved given that it's whole premise is 'What if the Breitbart comments section was it's own website'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 4:57am

      Re:

      "Given how deeply entwined the Mercers are with the alt right as a whole..."

      Call a spade a spade. When Trump spoke of the Very Fine People, the Mercers were among those he referred to.

      "...it's whole premise is 'What if the Breitbart comments section was it's own website'."

      It'll be very interesting to see the evolving discourse on Parler now that it's becoming a more popular alternative to Facebook among, shall we say, an audience enamored of an older view. For a very few republicans it'll be a crude wakeup call when they find themselves sharing the table with the tiki torch-wielding braying mob. For most of them it will be an awakening of a different kind, I'm guessing. All to the good. The US would certainly benefit once the 30% truly start using their inside voice where everyone can hear them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 16 Nov 2020 @ 9:55am

    How amusing that every baseless accusation of "censorship" data tracking, and echo-chambering certain cesspits sling at Techdirt, Parler is actually guilty of.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2020 @ 9:57am

    I'm curious how it was a huge problem when it was happening by Facebook, but somehow fine when it's all directly on the Mercer's own social network?

    Because double standards and hypocrisy, the top trait of the Republican party.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2020 @ 2:38pm

      Re:

      The funny thing is that legally doing it on their own social network would have meant they did nothing wrong legally as opposed to their terms of service violations at Facebook. But that isn't the focus of complaints.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Nov 2020 @ 10:09am

    'Twitter and Facebook are horrible, terrible platforms that collect and use the personal information of their users! ... Sorry, gimme a second, trying to sign up with Parler. 'Please provide your social security number and driver's license you stupid, gullible fool'? Strange way to phrase it but here you go. Now about how horrible those other platforms are...'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 5:05am

      Re:

      Yeah the blind, unthinking hypocrisy of the alt-right isn't exactly new;

      Alt-right republican: "Government is evil! Regulations are evil! Think of your rights!"

      Trump: "I think we should dominate the battlespace, and by that I mean we should have the military use live fire on uppity civilians."

      Alt-right republican: "All Hail Dear Leader! <singing> 🎵 Die Fahne hoch, die reihen dicht geschlossen 🎵..."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2020 @ 10:14am

    liberty, free speech, and personal privacy

    Then it's the social media for porn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 16 Nov 2020 @ 10:31am

      Re:

      Only if you've got really strange fetishes because funnily enough the platform claims that because broadcast tv can't show porn that means online platforms like them can't either, banking really hard that their users have never been on the internet and realized that it's chock full of porn I guess.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 16 Nov 2020 @ 10:46am

    Fox builds henhouse...

    Makes promise to guard it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2020 @ 10:57am

    At least if they require social security numbers, it restricts Parler to the US so the rest of the world can get on and ignore it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      UriGagarin (profile), 16 Nov 2020 @ 11:53am

      Re:

      Nope, plenty of the nutjobs, duped, and those sadly going through mental health issues are going there from the UK. Not sure what they are using as verification.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        No shovel to find 'em, 16 Nov 2020 @ 4:21pm

        Re: Re: Today's Zombies! Over three year gaps.

        UriGagarin: 28 (3), 22 Apr 2011 https://www.techdirt.com/user/urigagarin

        40 month gap; skipped 2017, 2018 entirely. Then my own fool self drew it out! With subject line "The US of A needs to trademark "FOOTBALL"..."

        The sentiments expressed MAY be genuine, but the long gap is definitely inexplicable. Its long term average is among the 80 or so with a bit under THREE comments per year. Its screen name shows lack of inventive AND is likely someone well over 50 in 2011. The sum adds up to ZOMBIE.

        Next, from screen name, is to brazenly announce WHO runs the zombies:

        Evil Timmy: 3 (<1) 38 month gap; Mar 24th, 2016 https://www.techdirt.com/user/eviltimmy

        THREE comments TOTAL, bombastic with "snowflake globe" among other ODD combinations of words -- in trivial comments shows that ODD phrasing is habit up to compulsion, AND attacks conservatives without any substance. -- That's Timothy Geigner.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ThatOtherOtherGuy, 16 Nov 2020 @ 11:51am

    The goal of CA was to convince fence-sitters on Facebook. If your whole social network site is a giant Klan meeting, who are you trying to influence?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ANANONANA, 16 Nov 2020 @ 12:01pm

      Re:

      It is perfect if, like any other cult, you want to isolate your believers from any information and viewpoints contradicting your doctrine. By the time they hit Parler they shuld already be well into the conservative echo chamber.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 12:35pm

        Re: Re:

        Kind of like how the whole mainstream media pushes left wing viewpoints down peoples throat in the US.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 3:04pm

          As opposed to right-wing media, which pushes lies down people’s throats because a comforting lie — “conservatives are oppressed”, “liberals are all radical socialists/communists/anarchists”, “the Proud Boys are just some silly kids who’ll grow out of it”, take your pick — is easier to swallow than a harsh truth (e.g., “Trump is trying to negate the election for the sake of holding on to power and the GOP is helping him however they can because they’re afraid of losing their own power in a world where changing demographics will eventually render them powerless”).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      thisguyrob, 17 Nov 2020 @ 8:09am

      Re:

      Its a prosperity gospel church/cult. The idea is to find the gullible ones, separate them, call everyone else "suppressive persons" and then bilk them for everything you can get.

      Trump learned the high-level con from Paula White, these other people learned the much darker arts of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ANANONANA, 16 Nov 2020 @ 11:53am

    I'm shocked. Shocked! To find that this is going on in there!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Evil Timmy (profile), 16 Nov 2020 @ 12:03pm

    Oh no, the snowflake globe that is Parler turns out to be yet another tool of conservative misinformation and control? Well, fool me 6,783 times, shame on you, fool me 6,784 times...I can't get fooled again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      No shovel to find 'em, 16 Nov 2020 @ 4:23pm

      Re: Hello, "Evil" Timmy. -- When people tell you who they are...

      ... believe them, says Maya Angelou

      THREE comments TOTAL, bombastic with "snowflake globe" among other ODD combinations of words -- in trivial comments shows that ODD phrasing is habit up to compulsion, AND attacks conservatives without any substance. -- That's Timothy Geigner. -- Add in BRAGGING about it and is conclusive.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 4:43am

      Re:

      Here, corrected:
      "Well, fool me 6,783 times, shame on you, fool me 6,784 times...I can't get fooled enough.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Koby (profile), 16 Nov 2020 @ 12:18pm

    First Things First

    I'm curious how it was a huge problem when it was happening by Facebook, but somehow fine when it's all directly on the Mercer's own social network?

    So far, I'm unaware of Parler selling out user data to third parties in violation of a consent decree. Perhaps that could happen, someday. But for now, Parler has a superior privacy record to Facebook. Until then, no data release means no problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Glen, 16 Nov 2020 @ 12:23pm

      Re: First Things First

      They are tied to Cambridge Analytica. How far do you have to shove your head up your ass to not see the issue with that?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2020 @ 12:51pm

      Re: First Things First

      Hahahaha

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      BernardoVerda (profile), 16 Nov 2020 @ 4:32pm

      Re: First Things First

      Where's the eye-rolling emoji when you need it?

      They just cut out the middlemen, and are now doing the job in-house.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 5:16am

      Re: First Things First

      "But for now, Parler has a superior privacy record to Facebook."

      Of course. Parler, a social platform linked so tightly to Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart would never abuse the trusting crowd coming its way.

      "Until then, no data release means no problem."

      You mean just because Parler is owned and operated by the same people who own and operate Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica doesn't mean their third offer should be tarred with the same brush...?

      I'd say it's ironic how you leap to the defense of Parler after spending most of your time here attacking liberal platforms over section 230...but I think we all know where you're coming from so that irony would have to give ground to cold hard fact.

      It'll be interesting to see how Parler handles a "no moderation" policy the way you keep advocating.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2020 @ 2:22pm

    There was a crazy and incorrect conspiracy theory making the rounds that it was owned by Trumpists' favorite bogeyman, George Soros. That's not true, though it would have been completely hilarious if it had been.

    Pfff. They know he is too busy destroying Hungary to troll US conservatives by giving them a place to hang out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 16 Nov 2020 @ 2:23pm

    "Will you walk into my Parlour?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2020 @ 3:31pm

    Do they really require a ssn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 4:07pm

      Re:

      https://legal.parler.com/documents/privacypolicy.pdf

      Bottom of page one, quoted here:

      "Influencer Network Information. If you choose to join our influencer network, we may ask for information that can be used to verify your identity, such as a copy of your government-issued photo identification, and information that can be used to facilitate the redemption of virtual items or payments, such as your Social Security number (SSN) or your tax identification number. We delete your government-issued photo identification information when it is no longer necessary to verify your identity. "

      The Influencer's Network is an account option that allows you to monetize your content on Parler.

      It's the same way on Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube, etc. if you want to monetize your content. If you generate income, the law requires that business to have your business tax ID on file for income tax reporting purpose. If you don't have a business tax ID, you can use your SSN in place of it.

      Now to be a verified account, just like Twitter, you have to provide a copy of a government issued photo id such as a driver's license or the photo id page from your passport.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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