- Parler, an app popular with Trump supporters and the extremist Proud Boys group, said its activity tripled during the debate where Trump mentioned the group.
- Parler markets itself heavily on its lack of content moderation, and is used by many who, like the Proud Boys, are banned from other sites.
- A spokeswoman told Business Insider its activity tripled during and after the debate, and it had 266,000 active users in that period.
- Trump refused to condemn white supremacy during his first debate with Joe Biden, saying instead: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
- The Proud Boys celebrated Trump’s comment by creating merchandise and using it as a recruitment drive.
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Parler, a social media platform popular with Trump supporters and used by the Proud Boys, said its activity rose to three times its normal levels during the debate in which Trump mentioned the group.
A Parler spokeswoman told Business Insider that the site saw “a very large user spike during and after the debate,” and that traffic rose to “about 3x normal load.”
She said that the site saw 266,000 active users in that period, and that 410,000 posts were created.
She said the site has been growing quickly in recent weeks, and now has 4 million users, compared to the 2.8 million it said that it had as of July.
Trump, prompted by his Democratic rival Joe Biden, mentioned the extremist, right-wing Proud Boys group when he was asked if he would condemn white supremacy by Fox News Host Chris Wallace.
Wallace asked Trump: “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down?”
Trump asked for a specific name, which Biden suggested.
Trump then said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
The Proud Boys is a right-wing, pro-Trump group that is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), and experts say that it espouses white supremacist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic ideologies, though the group denies it.
It was banned by Facebook in 2018.
The group has used Trump’s comments as a recruitment tool, including on Parler, where there is a verified “Proud Boys” account is on the platform, as well as a host of other, unverified Proud Boys accounts for cities, regions, and countries.
The verified account had 54,000 followers on Thursday. It had grown to 57,000 by early Friday morning.
The page did not post much during the debate. But it responded to Trump’s comments by writing “YES SIR, PROUD BOYS STANDING BY.” It has also shared a t-shirt with the phrase “Proud Boys Standing By.”
Its members have been using Trump’s comments as a recruiting tool.
And self-declared members of the group used Parler to celebrate the win, as noted by Mike Baker, a New York Times correspondent, at the time:
—Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) September 30, 2020
After the debate, Trump said: “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are.” He added that he wanted them “to stand down and let law enforcement do their work.”
Trump then condemned the Proud Boys in an interview with Fox News on Thursday night: “I’ve said it many times and let me be clear again: I condemn the K.K.K., I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys.”
Enrique Tarrio, the group’s chairman, had said on Parler after the debate that he was “excited” by Trump’s comments but was not taking them as an endorsement of the group.
“I am not taking this as a direct endorsement from the President. He did an excellent job and was asked a VERY pointed question. The question was in reference to WHITE SUPREMACY…which we are not.
“Him telling the Proud Boys to stand back and standby is what we have ALWAYS done.
“I’m am extremely PROUD of my Presidents performance tonight.”
And, after Trump’s comments to Fox News on Thursday, he joked on Parler: “So we can call ourselves the CondemnedBoys?”
And he noted responses to Trump on Twitter that called on him to support the group: “I see nothing but supporters asking the President to take his statement back. It’s an amazing feeling to have so much support.”
The group’s members have held rallies and clashed with anti-racism demonstrators in multiple cities, often becoming violent.
A ‘free speech’ platform
Parler, founded in 2018, brands itself as a haven for free speech.
It calls itself an “unbiased social platform” and says it does not “censor ideas, political parties or ideologies.”
Parler is also used by people that have been banned from other platforms.
This includes figures like right-wing commentator Laura Loomer, who was banned from Twitter in 2018 after her remarks to Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Loomer won the Republican primary for Florida’s 21st Congressional District in August and was congratulated by Trump.
Republican and conservative figures have been pushing the app, with some claiming it as a better alternative to major apps like Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook and Twitter have removed some of Trump’s content or put warning labels on it, such as a Trump campaign ad featuring a Nazi symbol or Trump’s tweet that encouraged people to vote twice, which is illegal.
Those websites frequently face criticism for not going far enough to police misleading or violent content shared by Trump and other figures.
Trump himself does not have an account on Parler.
But his campaign has a verified account, as does his son, Eric Trump, and his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany.
Leading Republican figures like Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Jim Jordan are also users, with those who sign up encourage to follow those figures after joining.
Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale joined in June, posting that he had joined on Twitter and writing: “Hey @twitter, your days are numbered.”
—Brad Parscale (@parscale) June 19, 2020
John Matze, Parler’s chief executive and co-founder, told The Washington Post that the app is for everyone, but that it was particularly popular with conservatives because of how they felt on other platforms.
“We initially attracted conservative users because they felt disenfranchised by other social media platforms,” he said through a spokesperson.
The Post reported that Matze did have to clarify the platform rules in June after some users were posting what the newspaper called “pornographic images and obscenities.” And the platform does have content moderators.