On the last day of Parler, the vibe was electric.
It was the weekend after supporters of President Donald Trump had stormed the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the election. With just more than a 24-hour warning, the “free speech social network” and aspiring Twitter alternative was being cut off by its cloud-hosting provider, Amazon Web Services. There were all-caps claims that “antifa” was actively taking over New York City, dressed in riot gear. There was rampant speculation about whether Trump had invoked the Insurrection Act, for reasons unclear. There was discussion of how Parler’s removal from the internet might be an event proving the validity of the QAnon conspiracy theory, the beginning of a mythical “10 days of darkness,” to precede the violent denouement of a global satanic plot. The company’s CEO, John Matze, posted frenzied promises: “I believe Amazon, Google, Apple worked together to try and ensure they don’t have any competition. They will NOT win!” he wrote. “We are the world’s last hope for free speech and free information.”
Then, at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, January 10, the site went down. After the riot, tech giants were pushed to act, and act they did—representing the broadest admission yet, from the industry itself, that online platforms are culpable for the offline violence they tacitly cultivate. First, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Trump would be locked out of his account “indefinitely,” then Twitter permanently banned him. Images and videos shared from the riot were removed from Facebook, and more than 70,000 QAnon accounts disappeared from Twitter. Amazon’s move to cut off Parler was part of this wave, and it was nearly unprecedented—the last major Amazon Web Services deplatforming was of WikiLeaks in 2010.