If the political segregation crisis in America wasn’t bad enough already, the rise of new “free speech” oriented social media platforms like Parler are about to make it much, much worse. Soon, just as there are with news media, there may be separate social media platforms for conservatives and liberals — a red internet and a blue internet, with little or no crossover.
Which, sounds like a great way to deepen the American divide and cultivate extremism on both ends of the political spectrum, at once.
In the last year, both Twitter and Facebook have made the decision to start censoring content on their platforms, labeling posts featuring misinformation as “misleading,” or flagging them as “disputed.” It’s a controversial step they’ve taken, to try and reduce the number of deceptive memes, articles, images and videos that circulate across their platforms. It’s essentially the capitalist version of censorship of speech — instead of coming from the government, it comes from the private sector. Which remains totally legal. And so far, has been used strictly to try and mitigate misinformation.
Naturally, that meant President Donald Trump’s Twitter posts started getting censored a lot. Specifically, the week of the election once it was to becoming clear that his chances of re-election were slipping away.
On Saturday November 7th, Trump tweeted: “Tens of thousands of votes were illegally received after 8 PM on Tuesday, Election Day, totally and easily changing the results in Pennsylvania…”
That post, along with several others, were flagged by Twitter. The platform blocked the President of the United States’ tweet from view, and prevented users from commenting on it.
Of course, to Trump fans that looked like Big Tech was trying to help cover-up a voter fraud conspiracy. It looked like corporations were overstepping their bounds to silence the President from speaking his truth (even if it was totally fabricated). It looked like censorship of American speech.
So, what was the conservative response? An organized exodus from platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and a mass migration to a platform built on covenants of equality of ideas, freedom of religion, and, most importantly, freedom of speech. The promise platform: Parler.
On Tuesday, this platform’s popularity exploded to become the #1 most downloaded app on both the Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Between November 7th and 9th their downloads soared by 2000%, surpassing 500,000 a day on the 9th. Republican senators like Ted Cruz, conservative news show hosts like Tucker Carlson, MAGA celebrities like Tito Ortiz and Tomi Lahren all started accounts (in fact, there’s at least five different accounts that claim to be “the official” Tomi Lahren). Those names float among a sea of hard-Red, never-Blue, right wingers who’ve had enough of being targeted on Twitter and Facebook for their political views; who are sick of being censored and challenged for their conservative beliefs; who are looking for a safe space to post among like-minded individuals.
Essentially, they’re voluntarily leaving the arena of discourse and locking themselves in a bubble — an echo chamber platform built just for them. There, conservative ideals and values can grow, evolving, fermenting, festering to become their most extreme versions. Users will lose touch with the reality that other people in the real world don’t all see things exactly the way they do. Viewpoints that oppose theirs will start to seem foreign, perhaps amoral and even evil.
And, if Twitter and Facebook are abandoned by all (or even most) of their conservative users, they’ll become exactly the same thing: blue echo chambers, where only one side of every political argument is ever presented or discussed.
It's just like what happened to news media after the birth of Fox News in the 90’s. Once news outlets started taking political sides, there was no reversing the trend: the political divide in this country began to widen and deepen at an exponential rate. And as people became more polarized, so too did our sources of news.
Today, you can flip between Fox and MSNBC and hear two totally different stories about exactly the event. It’s journalistic rhetoric at its most insidious.
Is that the future of social media, also? Is this trend the beginning of a more segregated online era, where conservatives use Red internet platforms and liberals use Blue ones?
Time will tell, but it seems likely at this point. The division in this country certainly wasn’t healed by the outcome of this recent election — it wouldn’t have been either way. America is slipping towards this willingly, it seems: sliding into different echo chambers, virtually, politically, socially, by choice, and there isn’t much anyone can do to stop it.
The concept behind Parler is a respectable one: a social media platform, free of censorship, devoted to free speech. But that’s not what it’s becoming in practice. Functionally, Parler has just created a safe space for conservative thinkers, and it’s made Twitter and Facebook a safer one for liberals.
It may well be the beginning of a new, self-segregated online society — and that doesn’t bode well for the social or political health of this country.