Inside The Power Struggle For Conservative Platform Parler

Conservative social media platform Parler hasn't exactly had a smooth run since it launched in 2018. Parler got kicked off the iPhone App Store and Google Play following the January 6th, 2021 insurrection in Washington, D.C. because they were accused of fostering violent speech. They were eventually let back on after they cleaned up their content management policies, as Tech Crunch explains. Parler, however, states that they warned the FBI more than 50 times about the impending insurrection, per Ars Technica. More recently, Parler's parent company Parlement Technologies announced the sale of their entire app to rapper Kanye West, aka Ye, per Politico.

Despite Parler's public-facing strife and upheaval, though, the app's true power struggle lay within. While we don't have precise details, the fight for the soul of Parler focused on two individuals: founder and CEO John Matze, and the app's principle bankroller Rebekah Mercer, as NPR outlines. Matze pushed for greater app content restrictions, particularly on domestic terrorism cells and QAnon conspiracy theorists. Parler officials call this description "inaccurate and misleading." Matze was fired in February 2021, one month after the insurrection on Capitol Hill.

Parler's funder Rebecka Mercer seemingly pushed for Matze to be fired. Mercer is the daughter of billionaire and Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer, who donated over $25 million to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, as The Business of Business explains. Ever since Mitt Romney lost his presidential run in 2012, his daughter has played an active role in conservative political circles.

A CEO ousted from within

We can trace the roots of the conflict within Parler back to the app's birth. As The Business of Business says, Parler's former CEO John Matze founded the company along with his fellow University of Denver graduate, Jared Thompson. While both of the men have computer science backgrounds, Thompson receded into the IT background while Matze adopted a role as the company's public face. At the time, Matzer said of Parler, "There are going to be no fact checkers. You're not going to be told what to think and what to say." He also admitted, "Those QAnon people, they creep me out."

Until the U.S.' 2020 election, Parler didn't get too much attention or garner too many users. As Slate overviews, following Trump's loss to President Biden in 2020, the platform became a place for the conservatively-minded and disgruntled to voice their grief. It has also been a popular platform among QAnon followers, per The Atlantic. Parler's user base doubled almost overnight to 10 million, which was still minor in comparison to Facebook's 223 million or Twitter's 69 million. CNN states that Parler's active user base has dwindled to about 40,000, who dwell in what Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt calls a "haven" of hate.

When Matze spoke up about clamping down on Parler's content policies following the January 2021 insurrection, he "got silenced," as he says on NPR. He butted heads with funder Rebekah Mercer, and was promptly shown the door.

A funder wielding power and money

Until the last decade or so, Rebecka Mercer maintained a low profile in political circles. As the daughter of "reclusive billionaire" Robert Mercer and director of the Mercer Family Foundation, she guided $70 million of the foundation's money into conservative causes from 2009 to 2014, as HuffPost's Highline cites. Her father Robert Mercer, co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, is "a force to be reckoned with" in conservative politics, per NPR. He's also a heavy backer of Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica.

It's this family and their wealth that John Matze and Jared Thompson tapped when founding Parler. As NPR says, Mercer agreed to fund Parler provided it remains a "neutral platform for free speech." Later she said, "The ever-increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining, and for the protection of free speech online ... That someone is Parler, a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy," per The Business of Business."

By all accounts, Mercer was instrumental in getting Matze kicked out of his role as Parler CEO. The Washington Post quotes one source inside Parler saying of Mercer, "She clearly likes influence and power, and this is a place for her to expand her influence and power." Mobashra Tazamal, senior research fellow at the Bridge Initiative, said, "She wants to influence the public narrative ... She doesn't just give money, she is involved in every entity she invests in."

A compliant leader takes the reigns

Following Matze's exit from Parler, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler got appointed interim CEO. Rather than push back against Parler's funder like Matze, or comment about Parler being a safe harbor for QAnon conspiracy theorists and violent domestic terrorism cells, he redirected the story back towards big tech. Framing Parler as a victim of the wealthy and mighty, he claimed that Apple and Google took Parler down from their stores because Parler was a competitor, despite the app's meager user base. NPR quotes him saying, "This is a broad conspiracy to silence free speech. They intended to wipe us from the face of the earth, but we're back. We're strong."

Meckler held his position only for a short time until George Farmer took over in March 2021. Farmer is the son of Michael Stahel Farmer, former treasurer of the Conservative Party and member of the U.K.'s House of Lords, per HITCFox Business quotes him discussing the difficulties of re-launching Parler on the iPhone App Store and Google Play. He said, "The whole technological infrastructure is based in woke corporate America, and that makes it very difficult if you're a free-speech-oriented platform." The Washington Post describes how this re-launch was orchestrated by Rebecka Mercer.

Regarding Kanye West's upcoming purchase of Parler, Farmer simply said that the platform "needs Ye." Ye recently made anti-Semitic comments on Twitter and was temporarily suspended. One week later his purchase of Parler was announced, per CNN.