Parler, a moderation-light social-media network that was forced offline last month by tech giants over how it policed its content, has fired its chief executive amid a dispute over the platform’s future.
John Matze, the former CEO, said he was fired on Friday by the company’s board as the platform was within days of restoring service to its roughly 15 million users. He said the board is currently controlled by conservative political donor Rebekah Mercer.</p><div> <p>“Over the past few months, I’ve met constant resistance to my product vision, my strong belief in free speech and my view of how the Parler site should be managed,” he said in a statement. “For example, I advocated for more product stability and what I believe is a more effective approach to content moderation.” Dan Bongino, a conservative talk-show host who has invested in Parler, responded with a Facebook video saying that Mr. Matze bore responsibility for “really bad decisions” that led to Parler being taken offline as well as problems with the app’s stability. “John decided to make this public, not us, “ Mr. Bongino said. “We were handling it like gentlemen.” The immediate impact on Parler’s efforts to restore service to its roughly 15 million users isn’t clear, though a person familiar with the company said that Mr. Matze had created Parler’s original code. Mr. Matze told the Journal that the site had overcome most of the hurdles to restoring service both through its website and for people who had previously downloaded its app. “Anybody who still had the app could have gotten on it” when service is restored, he said. “But no new accounts.” Mr. Matze said that before he was fired he had been seeking to adjust the platform’s moderation rules in ways that would allow Parler to return to Google’s and Apple Inc.’s app stores. Representatives for Parler and Ms. Mercer couldn’t be reached for comment on Mr. Matze’s firing or the timing of Parler’s relaunch. In the months following the U.S. presidential election, Parler carved out a niche but rapidly growing place in social media by wooing conservatives disaffected by mainstream platforms’ efforts to label certain speech and ban users who they deemed to have violated their guidelines around hate speech, misinformation and false claims of victory by former President Donald Trump. Parler’s rules forbid criminal activity and threats, but the platform left moderation up to community “jurors,” users who addressed content violations and were paid part-time. <div data-layout="header " data-layout-mobile="" class=" media-object type-InsetMediaVideo header scope-web|mobileapps article__inset article__inset--type-InsetMediaVideo article__inset--header "> <figure class="media-object-video article__inset__video media-object-video--standard"> <figcaption class="wsj-article-caption article__inset__video__caption"> The Wall Street Journal analyzed hours of video and audio from the Capitol riot to better understand how a mob of thousands overran police and attacked the U.S. Capitol. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann </figcaption>
</div> Major tech platforms took issue with that approach in the wake of the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters, alleging that Parler failed to adequately police the platform. Some Parler users posted threats ahead of the deadly attack on the Capitol, and others uploaded photos and videos of themselves during the riot, according to researchers and screenshots of posts viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Amid a pressure campaign by liberal activist group Sleeping Giants, Apple and Alphabet Inc.<span class="company-name-type">’s</span> Google suspended new downloads of the app. Amazon Web Services then followed suit, forcing the platform offline on Jan. 11. While Parler’s initial goal was merely to get back online for existing users after Amazon’s termination of service, Mr. Matze told the Journal that he had wanted to find a way to eventually make Parler available for download again through Google and Apple, allowing it to be added to new user devices. In the weeks before his termination, Mr. Matze said, he had proposed the introduction of some automated content moderation as well as a ban on entities affiliated with designated domestic terror organizations. “There are a lot of neo-Nazi groups that would fall under that category,” he said. Mr. Matze said it wasn’t clear to him where Parler’s board stood on those proposals. But Mr. Bongino’s response on Wednesday suggested that Parler’s backers hadn’t been willing to compromise. “We could have been up in a week if we just would have bent the knee,” Mr. Bongino said, adding that Parler intended to fight back against the tech platforms. “The vision of the company as a free-speech site and a stable product, immune and hardened to cancel culture, was ours.” Ms. Mercer, daughter of hedge-fund investor Robert Mercer, is among the company’s financial backers, the Journal reported in November. The Mercers have previously financed a number of conservative causes. Ms. Mercer said in a post on the platform that she “started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended.” <strong>Write to </strong>Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com and Keach Hagey at firstname.lastname@example.org </div><p style="position: absolute;z-index:-1;top:0;left:-15000px;">Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8</p>