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What If Cambridge Analytica Owned Its Own Social Network? CA Backer Rebekah Mercer Admits She's A Co-Founder Of Parler

Published: November 17, 2020
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Source: Tech Dirt

Since the election, Parler has found renewed life among Trump supporters who feel that... [checks notes] being fact-checked, or limited for sharing debunked and dangerous conspiracy theories, is somehow an attack on... something (reality: it's an attack on their delusions). And as Parler has gotten a new round of attention, some questions were raised about the funding behind it. After all, there was no big VC or known investor behind the company, so it wasn't entirely clear how it was surviving. There was a crazy and incorrect conspiracy theory making the rounds that it was owned by Trumpists' favorite bogeyman, George Soros. That's not true, though it would have been completely hilarious if it had been.

Late last week, a Twitter thread made the rounds trying to tie Parler's founding to Russia, though it involves a lot of conjecture and guilt by association, rather than facts.

But then, on Friday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Parler was being funded by the Mercer family, the same family who funded a bunch of pro-Trump projects, including Cambridge Analytica, Breitbart, and, well, Trump's own presidential campaign. Over the weekend, Rebekah Mercer took it up a further notch by claiming that she was the co-founder of the company along with CEO John Matze.

That's a post from Rebekah Mercer saying:

John and I started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended, and also to create a social media environment that would protect data privacy. Benjamin Franklin warned us: "Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech." 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.

That's... information that is brand new. Prior to this weekend, it was always claimed that the company was founded by Matze and a friend, Jared Thomson. In the past they had claimed that they founded it together, and had some support from a "small group of close friends and employees." But they never mentioned the Mercers. That's some "friends."

Also, Rebekah Mercer's claims are pretty ridiculous when you pick them apart. Despite claiming that they're setting up "a neutral platform for free speech" we know perfectly well that's utter garbage. As we've seen, they've got no problem banning people they dislike for ideological reasons. In fact, despite claiming on the website that they would only take down content if it violated the 1st Amendment, the company quickly realized that it would have to ban a lot more than that.

My favorite example of this was in a Forbes interview, where Matze admits that he's sitting around banning trolls as quickly as he can:

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m eating: I haven’t eaten all day,” says Parler founder John Matze, devouring a late lunch. His social media app—a new favorite of President Trump’s and other GOP leaders—has been under siege for the past few hours. “I’m sitting here like, banning trolls.”

By trolls he means teenage leftists who’ve flooded onto Parler....

As we said, they've sort of speed-run the content moderation learning curve that every website goes through when they claim to support free speech. They insist they'll allow anything. Then they start banning spammers. Then trolls. And, that's the same damn thing Twitter does, and even here they're admitting that they're banning "leftist trolls." In fact, over the past week or so we keep having people showing up on our article from the summer about Parler banning users it doesn't like and screaming at us about how it's okay because they're just banning trolls. But, that's the point. That's what Twitter is doing too. Except that Twitter isn't complaining about ideological trolls.

It's only Parler that seems to be staking out an ideological claim, trying to ban "leftist" trolls after being cofounded by one of the most extreme partisans around, who laughably claims that Parler will be neutral.

The other incredibly ridiculous claim is that Parler is a response to "the ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords" and that it is trying to "lead the fight against data mining." Or that Parler is "a beacon to all those who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy." We already covered how its views on free speech are not very different from other social media platforms, but the privacy claims are ridiculous as well.

Remember, Cambridge Analytica's entire claim to fame was collecting a shit ton of data on people by abusing the rules on an academic's personality quiz on Facebook, and then use it to target political messages. Remember, part of the reason Facebook got hit with a huge FTC fine was that it had let Cambridge Analytica extract a bunch of data it had promised not to.

Former Cambridge Analytica data expert Christopher Wylie noted this weekend that when he was there, the Mercers had always wanted their own social network in order to cut out the middle man and collect the data directly (and distribute propaganda directly). And now they've got that:

Oh, and they've got access to a lot more private data than Facebook, Google or Twitter do. Hell, Matze practically brags to a Forbes reporter how he has all sorts of private data on the "leftist trolls" he's trying to ban:

Matze knows the leftists’ ages of the trolls, as he calls them, because some verified their accounts, coughing up selfies and driver’s licenses or passports (a set of highly unusual requirements for proving identity and registering for an online account).

Twitter doesn't require you to upload your driver's license. Also, if you want to have a verified account on Parler, you're required to hand over your Social Security Number as well.

Basically, the Mercers are building a huge database of gullible idiots that they can now market propaganda to directly, cutting out the Facebook middleman. I'm curious how it was a huge problem when it was happening by Facebook, but somehow fine when it's all directly on the Mercer's own social network?

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