Parler Warned the FBI of Potential Violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 More Than 50 Times

Illustration for article titled Parler Warned the FBI of Potential Violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 More Than 50 Times

Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY / Contributor (Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of angry Trump supporters, Parler — the online hub for bigots and far-right extremists — was quickly painted as an instigating force, one that zealots had used to mount their offensive. But during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday probing the security failures that led to the insurrection, it was revealed that on more than 50 occasions, Parler had attempted to warn the FBI of the growing potential for violence.

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According to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Parler had uncovered “specific threats of violence being planned at the Capitol” on its platform and was apparently ready to sing like a canary in the weeks leading up to January 6, outing its own members and providing transcripts of the concerning communication to the feds.

When asked outright by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) during testimony whether or not his agency had received any intelligence from social media companies, FBI Director Christopher Wray was evasive and seemed to downplay the existence of direct evidence that would have pointed to a mounting insurrectionist threat.

“We’ve had so much information, I’m reluctant to answer any questions about the word ‘any,’” Wray said. “Certainly we were aware of online chatter about the potential for violence, but I’m not aware that we had any intelligence indicating that hundreds of individuals were going to storm the Capitol itself, to my knowledge.”

When pressed on whether or not the FBI had received intelligence from Parler specifically prior to the Jan. 6 attack, Wray conceded that it had, but declined to give specifics on what kind of intelligence had been relayed.

“My understanding is that they sent emails to a particular Field Office and that some of those contained possible threat information and some of them were referred to domestic terrorism squads,” he said.

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For what it’s worth, Wray’s testimony is seemingly in direct conflict with a letter Parler sent to lawmakers last March, in which it claimed in no uncertain terms that it had been trying desperately to relay the very real threat of violence to federal authorities for weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. In that letter, addressed to Maloney, Parler wrote that it had attempted to establish “formal lines of communication” with the FBI in light of record growth on the platform in the latter half of 2020, and wrote that it had sought to facilitate cooperation and forward instances of “unlawful incitement and violent threats.”

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“Far from being the far-right instigator and rogue company that Big Tech has portrayed Parler to be, the facts conclusively demonstrate that Parler has been a responsible and law-abiding company focused on ensuring that only free and lawful speech exists on its platform,” Parler’s lawyers wrote in the letter.

One post Parler said it forwarded to the FBI called for an armed mob of 150,000 to march on D.C. on order to “react to the congressional events of January 6th.” Another sought recruits for “lighting up Antifa in Wa[shington, D.C.] on the 6th” because the user wanted to “start eliminating people.

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Five people were ultimately killed as a result of the pro-Trump rampage, including one police officer who was beaten and one rioter who was shot at close range.

The Overstock Dot Com Guy Is Giving the MyPillow Gremlin a Run for His ‘Election Fraud’ Grift Money

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Screenshot: Locals / Patrick Byrne

Don’t forget to include Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne on the small but embarrassing list of home furnishing magnates milking every last penny from Donald Trump supporters who are convinced Biden can be retroactively tossed out of office.

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Byrne—one of several wealthy conspiracy theorists who crowded around Trump in the final days of his presidency, advising him to simply seize power as he was abandoned by his political allies—has been on the road for months at rallies promoting a hoax that Joe Biden, election tech manufacturers, and China or another foreign power schemed to steal the 2020 elections. But his generosity has reached a limit, according to the Daily Beast. Now Byrne wants his audience to chip in $5 a month each to see paywalled content about his travails across the country to pull the wool from the sheeple’s eyes.

Byrne is following the lead of MyPillow gremlin Mike Lindell, another pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, in insisting that unstoppable revelations are around the corner while quietly siphoning funds from the gullible. In recent weeks, Lindell launched Frank Speech, a site he described as a social media network to contest the dominance of Twitter and YouTube but in reality, is mostly a series of conspiracy livestreams boxed in by pillow ads. Byrne has skipped trying to build his own site and is instead using Locals, the Daily Beast reported, which is a sort of Patreon knockoff primarily used by streamers and pundits popular among right-wingers—pundits like Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld, former Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and Dilbert creator turned self-declared “master wizard” Scott Adams. Locals is run by Dave Rubin, a former commentator for progressive network The Young Turks who now styles himself as a MAGA-friendly exile from the “regressive left.” 

The Overstock CEO previously released a slapdash book on Amazon, Deep Rig, that soared to the top of sales charts despite being largely copy-pasted posts from his blog. (The Kindle version is $3.99, while a paperback goes for $7.99.) Now he’s stopped posting many of his updates to chat app Telegram and instead has locked them behind Locals’ paywall, where the Daily Beast wrote he is already making in the neighborhood of seven figures annually:

Byrne set up his paywalled election-fraud feed this spring on Locals, a subscription site founded by right-wing comedian Dave Rubin that is also used by Fox News host Greg Gutfeld and Dilbert creator Scott Adams. So far, Byrne has amassed more than 19,100 subscribers, each paying either a $5 monthly fee or a $55 annual subscription. At the monthly rate, that means Byrne can expect to pull in $1.15 million annually, minus credit card processing fees and a 10 percent cut taken by Rubin’s company.

Byrne claims he also moved many of his updates from Telegram to Locals because he likes the site’s format, dubbing it “OnlyFans for intellectuals,” in a reference to the subscription-based adult entertainment site.

Note that Byrne’s net worth is not a matter of public record, but Overstock.com is valued at over $3 billion. When Byrne resigned in 2019 after news broke of his relationship with accused Russian spy Maria Butina, according to the Daily Beast, he sold his remaining stock in the company to the tune of $90 million. One could surmise it is unlikely Byrne is really scraping for funds.

Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne’s Locals page.

Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne’s Locals page.
Screenshot: Locals / Patrick Byrne

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The vast majority of the comments on Byrne’s two Telegram channels, one of which has over 127,000 subscribers and the other nearly 63,000, appeared to be from true believers who didn’t mind throwing the millionaire some change. Many could be described as exhilarated at the opportunity. Yet at least some of his audience was split, sensing something was off about the request. One user wrote, “It feels like everything you say now is behind a paywall.” Another added, “So many scams and we are learning to approach with caution.”

“I do not spend I dime on farbucks”, one wrote. “Or scamozon. Ever. I simply do not believe that the public should have to pay for information. That’s it.”

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“well, do you beleive in this country & what Patrick is doing, one user questioned a complainer. The other user responded, “I do, but being forced to pay for it doesn’t seem very patriotic.

Others in Byrne’s Telegram channel didn’t mind chipping in but grew suspicious of the number of separate election conspiracy channels on Locals and the site’s efforts to keep content within its walled garden: “If it grew like Telegram has, the math is not that complicated. Multiple monthly subscriptions would add up quickly, and it turns people away. Account deleted. Also, no ability to share links… basically limiting important distribution. Locals is counterproductive to force multiplying news about election fraud developments.”

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One Byrne follower commented that it was rather convenient that while Byrne was charging $5 a month, Locals runs on an internal economy powered by “coins” that are purchased via a monthly subscription. The minimum monthly purchase is $7.99, meaning that it’s difficult for someone to subscribe to just Byrne’s Locals feed without racking up excess charges.

“My problem is that I am required to buy a ‘coin’ subscription by the site,” the user wrote. “The lowest is $7.00 per month. So I have $2.00 per month accumulating for nothing. I would prefer to subscribe directly to you.”

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Byrne told the Daily Beast that all of the funds are going to fight the so-called “soft coup” against Trump and that he has personally spent $5.5 million investigating the elections (and $45 million “investigating corruption” in general since around 2006). The site noted that much of the content uploaded to Byrne’s Locals page appears to be re-uploads from elsewhere, often in lower quality, such as footage of a Michigan press conference he reposted using a “snowflake” filter.

When he’s not urging people to sign up for recurring charges to their credit cards, Byrne is keeping busy continuing the election fraud grift in other ways, such as promoting fake ballot recounts designed to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 election results. ABC News reported he is one of the individuals bankrolling a fanciful “audit” of election results in Arizona run by a firm called Cyber Ninjas that has been plagued with reports of security lapses, deliberate partisanship, and massive incompetence. It’s supported by Republicans in the state Senate despite the impossibility of the recount reversing Biden’s victory there in 2020.

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Byrne claims to have donated half a million to the effort and is raising millions more via his website, the America Project. That organization is reportedly handling background checks and non-disclosure agreements for audit volunteers.

[The Daily Beast]

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PlayStation and Discord Are Teaming Up

Discord’s new partnership with PlayStation could help it become the chat app for every platform.

Discord’s new partnership with PlayStation could help it become the chat app for every platform.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

Discord, the gamer-focused chat app that’s been in the news a bit more than usual recently, has partnered with Sony’s PlayStation. Details are scarce, but the statement put out by Sony promises to bring “the Discord and PlayStation experiences closer together on console and mobile” beginning next year.

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In a blog post, Sony Interactive Entertainment President and CEO Jim Ryan revealed the two companies are “hard at work” connecting Discord with the PlayStation Network. The writing on the wall appears to be a full-fledged Discord experience baked into PlayStation consoles, or perhaps a Discord experience tailored to the console, so it’s easier to chat with folks in the app. PlayStation gamers usually have to deal with a whole dance of cables between a computer and the console to use Discord.

Ryan also said that Sony made a “minority investment” in Discord as part of its Series H funding, citing inspiration from both teams’ “shared passion to help bring friends and communities together in new ways.” The news comes hot on the heels of Discord reportedly turning down acquisition offers, including one from Microsoft.

The latest cash influx from Sony might help explain some of the motives behind Discord’s since-rescinded move to ban access to NSFW channels from the iOS app. The overarching consensus was that the company was reeling in some of its “wild west” tendencies to curry favor from outside investors. It’s not clear how much Sony invested in Discord, but the company has raised nearly $480 million in funding.

For its part, Discord continues as one of the reigning all-encompassing chat apps for gamers, along with a few other competitors like Mumble, Element, and TeamSpeak. New Discord features like Stage Channels, which allows Discord users to manage a voice broadcast with up to 1,000 attendants, suggest the company is setting its sights outside the gaming realm, or at least in a capacity where it’s considered alongside other massive community-based platforms like Twitch.

Though it said no to Microsoft’s offer to fold it into its gaming ecosystem, Discord has the upper hand once it launches a full-fledged PlayStation app. Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S players have access to a Discord app for their platform, but it’s limited to status changes and inviting friends to play along. A full-featured PlayStation app might spur Microsoft to offer Discord in full on the platform, especially since it’s already on Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and even Linux.

Discord Walks Back iOS Block on NSFW Content

Illustration for article titled Discord Walks Back iOS Block on NSFW Content

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Discord has walked back an earlier decision to ban NSFW servers completely from its iPhone and iPad apps.

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The company changed the guidelines on accessing NSFW content after experiencing severe pushback from its users. The ban now only applies to servers specifically focused on explicit pornographic content, including any server either “organized” around NSFW themes or where most of the server is devoted to 18-and-up content. Individual channels denoted as NSFW are still accessible, but only behind an opt-in age-gate.

When asked for a statement on the latest change, Discord responded with the following statement, along with links to support articles for users and server owners:

Our goal is always to keep Discord safe, especially for our younger users. Last week, we introduced additional controls to ensure minors will not be exposed to content that is inappropriate for them per App Store guidelines. We realize the community had many questions, and we wanted to clarify our position and which servers will or will not be affected. These updates are outlined in detail on our support articles for users and server owners. We will continue to work with server owners and our partners, and will notify all server owners letting them know which of their servers are impacted.

Discord will continue to comb through servers and channels to ensure they’re adhering to the new designations. It’s also working on a feature to allow servers to self-identify as NSFW.

Discord had initially beefed up its restrictions on NSFW content to comply with Apple’s iOS Developer Guidelines, which allow for “incidental” NSFW content as long as it’s only displayed after the user specifically opts in. But instead of mandating an age-gate where applicable, Discord banned adult iOS users altogether from accessing any NSFW content of any kind. The company then attempted to shift the attention over to Apple for its restrictive content policies in the App Store.

That upset communities of people who rely on Discord to generate revenue or engage with their following. Kink artists, furry groups, and other affiliated communities felt particularly affected by the NSFW policy. One artist, A. Szabla, explained to Rolling Stone how the ban would have negatively impacted queer communities using Discord to organize:

With bans on NSFW I often see a lot of queer art, and queer folks who are trying to view or create this work in order to better connect with their own genders and identities, getting hit the hardest and losing business and income because of these overreaching decisions by tech companies.

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It took a week for Discord to soften its stance on the iOS ban, perhaps as a show of faith to its users. However, there are still rumblings reverberating around social media that the company’s recent moves have been motivated in part to appeal as a safe investment to possible buyers—with Microsoft being the frontrunner.

Discord doesn’t have a clean past, which might be why there have been so many recent changes to its terms of use for adult communities. The chat app, which launched in 2015, has a history of allowing offensive content such as child pornography to circulate throughout the platform with few consequences, along with other disturbing content and extremist material. It still doesn’t offer parental controls, but rather points users to a guide for using the built-in privacy and safety features to keep safe.

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Parler Says It Warned the FBI of Violent Posts Threatening the Capitol Before Jan. 6 Insurrection

Illustration for article titled Parler Says It Warned the FBI of Violent Posts Threatening the Capitol Before Jan. 6 Insurrection

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Parler, the online safe haven for bigots and far-right extremists, claims it repeatedly alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation about “specific threats of violence being planned at the Capitol” ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, the company’s lawyers said in a letter to lawmakers dated Thursday.

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After seeing record growth in the latter half of 2020, Parler says it developed “formal lines of communication” with the FBI to facilitate cooperation and forward instances of “unlawful incitement and violent threats.” Parler claims that it referred violent content that had been posted on its platform to the FBI more than 50 times in the weeks leading up to the attack. Some of these flagged posts included specific threats to the Capitol, where five people later died during an attack by pro-Trump insurgents trying to prevent Congress from verifying President Joe Biden’s electoral college win.

“Far from being the far-right instigator and rogue company that Big Tech has portrayed Parler to be, the facts conclusively demonstrate that Parler has been a responsible and law-abiding company focused on ensuring that only free and lawful speech exists on its platform,” Parler’s lawyers wrote in a letter to New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The posts Parler cites are crystal clear about their violent intentions, no two ways about it. One post Parler said it forwarded to the FBI called for an armed mob of 150,000 to head to D.C. to “react to the congressional events of January 6th.” Another post sought recruits for “lighting up Antifa in Wa[shington, D.C.] on the 6th” because the user wanted to “start eliminating people.” Another post claimed then-President Donald Trump “needs us to cause chaos to enact the #insurrectionact.” One user said the D.C. event planned for Jan. 6 “is not a rally and it’s no longer a protest.”

“This is the final stand where we are drawing the red line at Capitol Hill,” that user wrote, according to the letter. “I trust the American people will take back the USA with force and many are ready to die to take back #USA so remember this is not a party until they announce #Trump2020 a winner… And don’t be surprised if we take the #capital [sic] building.”

The letter also includes redacted screenshots of emails Parler claims it sent to the FBI detailing these threats. While this news would be met with a positive response from any sane userbase, Parler was reportedly flooded with furious posts on Friday from users pissed off that Parler had ratted them out to federal authorities. Several vowed to jump ship and delete their accounts as soon as Trump rolls out his new social media platform.

Parler bills itself as a less censored alternative to mainstream social media sites and the last bastion of “free speech” on the internet. Shortly following the insurrection, Parler briefly went offline after Apple and Google kicked it off their respective app stores and Amazon Web Services severed ties with the platform. All three companies cited Parler’s lax content moderation in their decisions.

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In an effort led by Maloney, the House Oversight Committee has requested the FBI investigate the company’s role in the attack as well as look into claims that Parler tried to bribe Trump into creating an account on the platform.

Parler’s Ex-CEO Sues, Claims He Was Told His Shares Were Only Worth Three Buckaroos

Illustration for article titled Parler's Ex-CEO Sues, Claims He Was Told His Shares Were Only Worth Three Buckaroos

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Parler, the pro-Donald Trump social media site that’s served as a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet for brain worms in the past few years, is being sued by its own co-founder and ex-CEO.

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Following the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, which was partially organized on Parler’s violent death threat-laden site, Amazon Web Services booted Parler from its servers and Apple and Google kicked it off their respective app stores. The site is now back despite failing to convince any of those other companies to let it return, but CEO John Matze didn’t return for the second leg of the trip. He was forced out in some type of internal squabble with GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, a major investor who is now reportedly personally bankrolling the site, and far-right former NRATV pundit and fellow investor Dan Bongino, whose role appears to at least partially consist of urging his millions of Facebook followers to migrate to a site he has a personal financial stake in.

The departure didn’t go over well, with Bongino accusing Matze of trying to sell out the site’s original mission as a free speech utopia where almost anything legal goes—exactly what got the company in trouble in the first place—and Matze telling media Mercer had turned a blind eye to doing anything about the deluge of QAnon conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, fascists, racists, and other unpleasant zealots taking over the site. Now Matze is claiming that his 40 percent stake in the company was stolen in an “outlandish and arrogant theft… epitomized by oppression, fraud and malice,” per the Las Vegas Sun.

Matze wrote in court filings claiming breach of contract and defamation that Parler was “hijacked to advance the personal political interests and personal advantages of the defendants rather than serve as the free expression platform as originally conceived.” Both Mercer and Bongino are named as defendants in the suit, alongside chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick and Parler’s new interim CEO, Tea Party activist Mark Meckler.

Matze wrote in the suit that the company was initially founded using a holding company designed to obfuscate Mercer’s involvement, and quarreled over financials (in his telling, Mercer characterized her 60 percent equity stake as a loan that would need to be paid back). He added that Mercer seemed to lose interest in the site until around November 2020—it’s not clear exactly when, but this would have been sometime around when Parler signups were surging amid Trump’s claims the election was stolen—and that she subsequently refused to compromise on proposals for more stringent moderation in the wake of the riots. Per NPR:

“Matze’s proposal was met with dead silence, which he took to be a rejection of his proposal,” according to the suit.

Matze says in the suit that Mercer brought in allies, including Wernick, to “strong-arm him out of the company.”

Wernick allegedly threatened Matze with an “avalanche of legal claims and expenses if he dared defy Mercer,” the suit states.

Wernick, according to the suit, told Matze not to consult his own lawyer and threatened that “he would be ruined” if he did so.

Matze plays himself up to be sort of an innocent-minded patsy in the suit. Court documents claim that upon meeting his eventual replacement, Meckler, it “became apparent to Matze that Meckler’s efforts were not to grow Parler as a free expression platform, but instead to redirect it into what Meckler called as the ‘tip of the conservative spear’ for a brand of conservatism in keeping with Mercer’s preferences.” Considering Parler’s obvious ideological pandering, that it allegedly sought to lure Trump into registering an account with promises of an equity stake in Summer 2020, and that Matze bragged about banning liberal “trolls” across the site, it’s hard to take the claim Matze had no idea his site would be used to advance the right-wing agenda seriously.

Finally, Matze claims in the suit that Parler management smeared him with suggestions of misconduct and breaches of his obligations as a manager, when in reality the site was continuing to get back online using the technical game plan he developed, just very poorly. (As Meckler “lacked the technical know-how to actually run such a social media platform—and his real role was to simply push a political agenda—the implementation was beyond lacking,” Matze added.) He also writes that as part of the shakedown, Mercer’s people determined the “fair market value” of his 40 percent stake to be a measly three dollars.

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Perhaps on that, we can agree: Parler is worth about $7.50, give or take a few dollars depending on whether it helps successfully provoke another failed insurrection.

Matze, however, says his stake in the internet hellhole is actually worth millions, and that in internal discussions he and Mercer had valued the site at $1 billion or more.

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The former CEO “looks forward to presenting his claims in court and being vindicated,” Matze’s attorney James Pisanelli told the Sun in a statement.

Discord Wants to Go Public or Sell to Company Like Microsoft for $10 Billion: Report

Illustration for article titled Discord Wants to Go Public or Sell to Company Like Microsoft for $10 Billion: Report

Image: Discord

Microsoft is currently in discussions to potentially buy the chat platform Discord, according to a new report from Bloomberg News that cites unnamed sources. The sale, which is far from a done deal, could be worth over $10 billion but Discord is just as likely to go public if it doesn’t get an acceptable offer, according to Bloomberg’s sources.

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Bloomberg notes that Discord has been talking to other prospective buyers “in the past,” including Amazon and Epic Games, though the timeline for those discussions wasn’t made clear. Both Microsoft and Discord did not immediately respond to emailed inquiries from Gizmodo late Monday.

Microsoft has been rumored to almost buy up a number of different tech properties in recent years, though some of the most high profile have not gone through. Last year, Microsoft purchased ZeniMax Media, which owns Bethesda Softworks, for $7.5 billion. Bethesda produces several high-profile video game franchises, including Doom and Fallout.

Microsoft was named as an interested party to buy TikTok back in 2020 when the Trump regime was trying to get the Chinese-based dance app to sell to an American company. The TikTok sale ultimately fizzled when the Biden administration took over the White House. Microsoft was also reportedly interested in buying Pinterest, though that deal also hasn’t happened. At least not yet.

Would Discord go public? That’s certainly another possibility, according to Bloomberg. And if that’s the endgame, it might make sense to leak a bunch of news about a potential $10 billion sales price. Discord was valued at roughly $7 billion as recently as November. But what’s a few billion here or there?

Senate Considering Hauling in Facebook, Twitter CEOs so They Can All Ramble for Hours About Whatever BS Gripe They Have This Time

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at a Congressional hearing in November 2020.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at a Congressional hearing in November 2020.
Photo: Hannah McKay (Getty Images)

HellfeedHellfeedHellfeed is your bimonthly resource for news on the current heading of the social media garbage barge.

If you thought last year’s clusterf*ck of a Senate hearing on social media was a good use of everyone’s time, congrats! The Senate is considering calling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and the rest of the gang back together for another hearing, this time before the Judiciary Committee.

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Per Politico, Senator Chris Coons told the site on Thursday that he “[thinks] there’s reason for us to ask them to come before us again.” While the plans aren’t final and Coons said he was still negotiating with his Republican counterparts, he added his expectation is that “we’ll look at the dynamics of social media and I think we’ll look at the intersection between privacy, civil liberties and civil rights in the digital context.”

Last year’s hearing was before the Commerce Committee. At the time, it was still controlled by Republicans, but Democrats joined their colleagues across the aisle in a unanimous vote to subpoena Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Alphabet-Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Democrats’ rationale at the time was that the committee chair, GOP Senator Roger Wicker, had promised the hearing would reserve time for Dems’ preferred issues like antitrust and not solely serve as a vehicle for conservatives to scream at the assembled CEOs about liberal bias. Of course, the latter thing is exactly what happened.

With Democrats in control, perhaps this hearing will go a little smoother. Anything’s possible, right? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It’s been a while since our last edition of Hellfeed, so here’s some of the biggest developments in the social media world over the last few weeks.

Facebook is building a version of Instagram for, uh, kids

It’s long been the case—based both on safety concerns like bullying and pedophiles and, more cynically, laws surrounding the collection of user data on children—that Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram have been age-gated to those 13 and older. Of course, this has been completely unenforceable without solutions nobody likes, such as requiring new users to provide photos of their IDs. Children have slipped onto the site in droves, and like their teenage counterparts, sometimes face extreme amounts of bullying and harassment, not to mention the occasional message from pedophiles.

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As originally reported by BuzzFeed, Facebook has a jaw-dropping solution to this: A post on an internal company message board by Instagram vice president of product Vishal Shah said the company is working on “a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.” What could go wrong? Well, YouTube Kids—which unlike an Instagram for children, doesn’t even involve kids uploading videos of themselves—resulted in claims of illegal data collection and the site being flooded with disturbing videos uploaded by bots or horrible trolls. YouTube was eventually forced to overhaul the whole product. Facebook is mulling a product for children based around one that lets adults upload everything from drug cartel glamour posts to pro-eating disorder content, so… yeah.

As Gizmodo colleague Matt Novak pointed out, pretty much everything about this product and how it will function is an unknown at this point. But it does reek of an effort to get ever-younger users signed up for the Facebook data machine, thinly veiled with the excuse that it’s trying to make kids already on Instagram safer. Yeesh.

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Facebook Groups: Now with slightly more oversight!

Facebook also announced this week that it’s taking steps to clean up Groups, the interest-based communities that it tried to juice in recent years before many of said groups inevitably became hives full of QAnon conspiracists, election truthers, anti-vaxxers, far-right propagandists, and the people who organized the Capitol riots. Changes include prohibiting users who break rules from posting or commenting in Groups for a period of time, putting warning labels on groups that have broken rules, and requiring tighter moderation of rules-violating communities. Surely they’ll whack that mole this time!

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Parler is somehow getting worse, actually

A few fun updates from our friends at Parler, the far-right Facebook/Twitter clone for people who love issuing death threats and would marry a gun if they could just choose one:

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  • While the site has managed to crawl back onto the web after losing its web hosting and app store placements over its role in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capital, it hasn’t convinced any of the tech companies that ditched it—Amazon, Apple, and Google—to do business with them again.
  • Parler claims to now have algorithms to detect content calling for violence now, but there’s no reason to believe anything will change. Apple rejected the company’s appeal to get back on the App Store, after which Parler reportedly fired its whole iOS team.
  • Republican megadonor and Parler investor Rebekah Mercer, a hardliner on the whole giving-racists-and-conspiracy-theorists-a-giant-megaphone-to-spew-hate-online issue, is reportedly personally bankrolling the site with “big checks” at this point and flexing her muscles to preserve that vision. The new CEO, apparently a Mercer pick, is a Tea Party activist.

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Definitely not a ticking time bomb waiting to go off for a second time or anything.

Posting on Gab was maybe not the smartest idea

Gab, Parler’s neo-Nazi uncle, has been hacked—big time. Whistleblower site DDoSecrets announced the release to a group of reporters of some 70 gigabytes of data lifted from the company’s servers, including profile and user data, posts, private messages, and more.

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A similar situation played out on a far smaller scale with white supremacist forum Iron March, which had its SQL database dumped on the Internet Archive by an unknown hacker in 2019. The result was numerous white nationalists/supremacists, fascists, and current/former members of violent groups like the terroristic Atomwaffen Division had their identities publicly revealed, which is sort of inconvenient when you’re trying to anonymously spark a race war.

The Gab leak is already providing a similar look at what’s going on behind closed doors there, and the sheer size of the leak is likely to keep researchers and reporters busy for a while.

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I shall simply open my own failing internet hellhole

You may remember MyPillow founder Mike Lindell from his previous best hits, such as months of increasingly depraved promotion of voter fraud hoaxes (TL;DR: Donald Trump won, apparently!) and the $1.3 billion lawsuit he is facing from an election tech manufacturer over that. He’s definitely not mad that he got banned from Twitter, which is why he’s announced he is launching his own free speech site, Vocl. Per Business Insider:

In an interview with Insider, [Mike] Lindell said he plans to call the site “Vocl” and he described it as a cross between Twitter and YouTube.

“It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen,” he said to Insider in a Wednesday interview. “It’s all about being able to be vocal again and not to be walking on egg shells.”

Vocl, he said, isn’t like Gab or Parler, two far-right social-media sites. It’s a cross between Twitter and YouTube meant “for print, radio, and TV,” he said.

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Sure thing, Mike.

ISIS is trying to hit its crowdfund goal

Facebook, Telegram, PayPal, and other big tech firms are continuing to serve as a vehicle for crowdfunding the Islamic State terror group, often via accounts that are fake or run by sympathizers and middlemen posing as humanitarian interests, according to an in-depth feature on Rest of World:

Vera Mironova, a visiting fellow at Harvard University who has extensively monitored online terrorist fundraising campaigns, notes that posts follow the mores of their host platform. “So secretive campaigns would not be posted on Facebook, or if they were, they would sound more humanitarian and not use words like ‘ISIS.’ But the ones on Telegram go full hurrah,” she explained. This same dynamic plays out on a country-by-country level, Mironova added, and is especially apparent on payment platforms. “Some countries — let’s say Russia or parts of Eastern Europe, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan — they just do not care,” she said. “ISIS-linked campaigns coming from those places absolutely won’t hide anything. … They could use any platform; they even transfer money between bank cards.”

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The full thing is worth a read, because this type of thing is now a permanent fixture of the internet and will only become more relevant going forward.

You are not going to get rich tweeting. You are not going to get rich tweeting

Twitter, which has been introducing new features at a rate of approximately 10 per minute, has announced that it is working on Super Follows, a tool for users to launch paid subscriptions with access to private feeds or posts. While feed-addicted journalism and media types might be salivating at the prospect of being paid to waste time, Twitter has yet to clarify whether it will allow the most obvious application that will actually make money: porn.

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Accessibility on social media apps continues to be a challenge

The Washington Post has an interesting feature on how apps like TikTok have tried to implement accessibility features, but still lag far behind on implementing or improving features like speech to text transcription—making them harder to use for those with deafness, hearing loss, or visual impairments. A good roundup of the technical challenges behind implementing such features on the one hand, but also how tech firms have sometimes failed to prioritize working on them on the other.

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Hoo boy, Substack sure made a mess

Newsletter platform Substack isn’t really a social media site. But it essentially wouldn’t exist without Facebook and Twitter, where the various journalists, commentators, and web personalities that actually write those newsletters generated and cultivate their followings in the first place. Besides, what we will euphemistically refer to as “Substack discourse” is now approximately three hundred percent of Twitter.

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In the past week Substack has come under fire for its practice of luring high-profile writers to set up shop on the site by writing huge “advance payment” checks. That might be less controversial were it not for the fact that many of its most prominent power users regularly write raving diatribes about supposedly out-of-control leftism, “cancel culture,” “identity politics,” and stuff like that. Glenn Greenwald, one of the site’s biggest success stories (and who says he did not accept an advance check from Substack), uses his account to further vitriolic feuds such as one with a specific New York Times reporter. Another, Irish TV writer Graham Linehan, aggressively promotes anti-trans rhetoric.

Annalee Newitz, founder of our sister blog io9, penned a Medium post arguing that Substack’s habit of paying writers, sometimes without disclosure, and seemingly allowing others with huge followings to violate its rules essentially makes it less of a platform than an editorial publication—except one with none of the editorial standards followed by reputable ones:

So Substack has an editorial policy, but no accountability. And they have terms of service, but no enforcement. If you listen to [co-founder Hamish McKenzie], they don’t even hire writers! They just give money to people who write things that happen to be on Substack. It’s the usual Silicon Valley sleight-of-hand move, very similar to Uber reps claiming drivers aren’t “core” to their business. I’m sure Substack is paying a writer right now to come up with a catchy way of saying that Substack doesn’t pay writers.

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(No, no one means “publication” in the way Josh Hawley does, stop asking.)

Substack wrote in a blog post that misunderstandings about the actual makeup of the advance payments program has resulted in a “distorted perception of the overall makeup of the group, leading to incorrect inferences about Substack’s business strategy.” But because there’s no transparency into who Substack is paying beyond those writers which have chosen to disclose they cashed a check, you’re just gonna have to take their word for it.

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And the Q of QAnon is…

An HBO documentary series airing this weekend claims to have discovered the identity of QAnon’s Q, the individual or individuals behind a sprawling pro-Trump conspiracy theory that infected the Republican Party (primarily via Facebook) and provided much of the manpower at the Capitol riots. It’s not exactly a huge surprise that the culprit named here is Ron Watkins, the administrator of imageboard sites 8chan/8kun, where Q posted for years after leaving 4chan.

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That doesn’t necessarily solve the mystery of who came up with Q in the first place, as Watkins may have simply took over the Q account from its original creator, and whatever case Q: Into the Storm believes it has to prove Watkins is Q has yet to be vetted. Either way, don’t think we’re done with this whole mess anytime soon.

The ban list

Ladies and gentlemen, drum roll please…

  • QAnon cheerleader and (unfortunately) Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter for 12 hours thanks to an “error,” though one could argue one wasn’t actually made.
  • YouTube took down a video from bigoted talk show host Steven Crowder, not for mocking Black speech and culture in an explicitly racist way or suggesting Chinese restaurants spread the novel coronavirus, but for violating anti-misinformation policies by conflating the pandemic death toll with that of the common flu. That’s because they’re cowards afraid of backlash from conservatives.
  • Facebook banned the military of Myanmar, which perhaps might have been more effective had it done so before they used the site to incite genocide.
  • Also, Facebook briefly banned news links across the entire country of Australia in an inspiring corporate protest against a law forcing them to pay out a share of revenue to news sites.
  • Twitter accidentally auto-banned a lot of people, including Gizmodo weekend editor Alyse Stanley, for posting the word “Memphis.”
  • TikTok banned the use of the “super straight” hashtag, which claimed that being transphobic is a gender identity, and its creator Kyle Royce.
  • World’s worst lawyer Rudy Giuliani was banned from YouTube for two weeks for refusing to stop insisting his ex-boss, who hates him, won the 202 elections.

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Honorable mention: Neera Tanden, Joe Biden’s nominee to run the Office of Management and Budget, didn’t get banned from Twitter. But her tweets attacking numerous members of Congress did get her “banned,” in a sense, from further consideration for the job.

Apple Tells Parler It’s Still Too Friendly to Racist Filth for iOS

The Parler App running on an iPhone.

The Parler App running on an iPhone.
Photo: Hollie Adams (Getty Images)

Parler, the social media network for people furious that Lola Bunny’s animated boobs are too small now, won’t be returning to iOS anytime soon.

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The social network, which caters to conservatives, Trump supporters, and various other right-wing cranks and bigots, branded itself as a censorship-free site that would only remove illegal posts and liberal trolls. It predictably became a hive of death and rape threats against Democrats, racist diatribes, and pro-Trump conspiracy theories. Parler was subsequently booted off of its Amazon web hosting and Apple’s and Google’s respective app stores in January after numerous Parler users were implicated as involved pro-Trump riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, where five people died.

Parler was forced offline for weeks as a result, returning late last month with promises of better moderation (ones to be extremely skeptical of, given the site’s majority investor and GOP megadonor Rebekah Mercer used the opportunity to fire CEO John Matze and replace him with a Tea Party activist). Amid all this, Parler fell flat on its face in a doomed antitrust lawsuit against Amazon portraying itself as the victim. It doesn’t appear to be doing much better in its quest to get back on the App Store, per Bloomberg, which reported on Wednesday that Apple rejected Parler’s appeal to return to the App Store on Feb. 25.

According to Bloomberg, Apple staff wrote in a letter to Parler that it didn’t believe the app’s revamp contained any meaningful moderation changes and that it still considered it overrun with “hateful, racist, [and] discriminatory” content:

“After having reviewed the new information, we do not believe these changes are sufficient to comply with App Store Review guidelines” Apple wrote to Parler’s chief policy officer on Feb. 25. “There is no place for hateful, racist, discriminatory content on the App Store.”

Apple included several screenshots to support the rejection. Some screenshots, reviewed by Bloomberg, show user profile pictures with swastikas and other white nationalist imagery, and user names and posts that are misogynistic, homophobic and racist.

Apple left open the possibility that Parler could return to the App Store in the future if it complies with its guidelines but left it fairly clear that Parler was nowhere close to doing so.

“As you know, developers are required to implement robust moderation capabilities to proactively identify, prevent and filter this objectionable content to protect the health and safety of users,” Apple wrote in the letter obtained by Bloomberg. “… In fact, simple searches reveal highly objectionable content, including easily identified offensive uses of derogatory terms regarding race, religion and sexual orientation, as well as Nazi symbols. For these reasons your app cannot be returned to the App Store for distribution until it complies with the guidelines.”

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Parler reportedly fired (or canceled, one might jeer) the three iOS developers it still had on staff as well as four other employees on Wednesday, a source told on Bloomberg, indicating that it has likely given up on ever getting back on iOS.

According to the Washington Post, Parler’s new CEO, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, had previously expressed confidence that Parler’s app would return to iOS. However, he also said the company had no interest in appeasing the moderators at Google’s Play Store, as it is far easier to sideload apps on Android.

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Solve This Riddle

Illustration for article titled Solve This Riddle

Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

What is a cross between Twitter and YouTube and is also a newspaper and TV show and radio broadcast?

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Space? Time? The concept of time? An alchemical process by which vibrating particles moved by a passing sound wave are transmuted into sheets of paper and back into the air? A social phenomenon, like a zeitgeist or coercive persuasion? The yet-unsolved mysteries of psychokinetic abilities?

Before I tell you the answer, think hard, scroll down, and add your comment.

A: It is a place to be vocal called Vocl.

Business Insider presented the puzzle, courtesy of MyPillow guy Mike Lindell, who’s currently facing a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit and also embarking on a new social media platform. Insider writes:

In an interview with Insider, [Mike] Lindell said he plans to call the site “Vocl” and he described it as a cross between Twitter and YouTube.

“It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen,” he said to Insider in a Wednesday interview. “It’s all about being able to be vocal again and not to be walking on egg shells.”

Vocl, he said, isn’t like Gab or Parler, two far-right social-media sites. It’s a cross between Twitter and YouTube meant “for print, radio, and TV,” he said.

Nods knowingly with dead eyes staring into the everlasting nothingness.