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Parler, which drew Trump fans, returns online

By Jack Nicas

© The New York Times Co.

SAN FRANCISCO » Parler, the social network that drew millions of Trump supporters before disappearing from the internet, is back online a month after Amazon and other tech giants cut off the company for hosting calls for violence around the time of the Capitol riot.

Getting iced out by the tech giants turned Parler into a cause celebre for conservatives who complained they were being censored, as well as a test case for the openness of the internet. It was unclear if the social network, which had positioned itself as a free speech and lightly moderated site, could survive after it had been blacklisted by the biggest tech companies.

For weeks, it appeared the answer was no. But on Monday, for the first time since Jan. 10, typing parler. com into a web browser returned a page to log into the social network — a move that had required weeks of work by the small company and that had led to the departure of its chief executive.

Parler executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

It was unclear exactly how Parler had figured out how to host its site on computer servers, the central technology underpinning any website, though it appeared Parler had partnered with a smaller company for the service. Many of the large web-hosting firms had previously rejected it. For other services required to run a large website, Parler relied on help from a Russian firm that once worked for the Russian government and a Seattle firm that once supported a neo-Nazi site.

Parler’s return appeared to be a victory for small companies that challenge the dominance of Big Tech. The company had sought to portray its plight about the power of companies such as Amazon, which stopped hosting Parler’s website on its computer servers, and Apple and Google, which removed Parler’s mobile app from their app stores.

Parler had become a hub for right-wing conversation over the past year, as millions of people on the far right had flocked to the platform over what they perceived as censorship of conservative voices by Facebook, Twitter and Google. Much of the content on Parler was benign, but for months ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the site also hosted hate speech, misinformation and calls for violence.

Days after the riot, Amazon, Apple and Google said they had cut off Parler because it showed that it could not consistently enforce its own rules against posts that incited violence. Apple and Google have said they would allow Parler’s app to return if the company could prove it could effectively police its social network.

After Amazon booted Parler from its web-hosting service, Parler sued it, accusing it of antitrust violations and breaking its contract. A federal judge said last month that Amazon’s contract allowed it to terminate service and declined to force the company to keep hosting Parler, as the startup had requested.

Parler had more than 15 million users when it went offline and was one of the fastest growing apps in the United States. It is largely financed by Rebekah Mercer, one of the Republican Party’s biggest benefactors.

John Matze, a software engineer who was Parler’s co-founder and chief executive, said earlier this month that Mercer had effectively fired him over disagreements on how to run the site. Mercer hired Mark Meckler, a leading voice in the Tea Party movement, to replace Matze.

Before the site’s return on Monday, Parler executives had said they were rejected by multiple webhosting companies that either feared a publicrelations backlash or a cyberattack if they agreed to support the site.

On Monday, data behind Parler’s website showed that it was connected to an Ohio firm called CloudRoute and a Los Angeles firm called SkySilk, according to Doug Madory, an internet- infrastructure expert. CloudRoute’s chief executive, Andre Temnorod, said in an interview that his company only appeared in that data because it sold technology to SkySilk, a web-hosting provider. “SkySilk is our customer and Parler is SkySilk’s customer,” he said. SkySilk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

To stay online, Parler got help from DDoSGuard, a Russian firm, which raised concerns among some internet researchers that the Russian government could surveil Parler users.

Parler gained momentum in 2020, particularly after the November election when Facebook and Twitter began labeling posts from former President Donald Trump asserting that the election was rigged. So many new users signed up that at times the flood overwhelmed Parler’s systems and caused the site to crash or slow down.

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