What Happened to Parler Could Happen to You, Former CEO Mark Meckler Warns

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Mark Meckler stepped in as Parler’s interim CEO after Amazon, Google, and Apple essentially canceled the social media platform. 

Meckler says he didn’t intend to become CEO of Parler when he called the company in January to ask if he could help, but recognized the gravity of the situation and wanted to do all he could to defend free speech.  

“Parler was the point of the spear,” says Meckler, a former leader of Tea Party Patriots who is also president of Citizens for Self-Governance. “And if we allowed Big Tech and the Big Tech oligarchs to take Parler offline and leave it offline permanently, [these tech companies were drawing] a line in the sand that we might never be able to cross again.” 

Conservatives must be prepared to respond to opposition from Big Tech companies, he says, because “any conservative, whether you’re a conservative business person or you’re running a nonprofit organization,” is susceptible to what happened to Parler.

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Meckler joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his stint as Parler’s CEO and how the platform ultimately was restored

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  • A bipartisan group of senators announces release of the first congressional report detailing security failures that led to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
  • Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee ask Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate an Antifa attack on journalist Andy Ngo.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to be joined by Mark Meckler, the former CEO of Parler and the co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, the president of Citizens for Self-Governance and [president of] Convention of States Action. Thank you so much for being here.

Mark Meckler: Glad to be with you.

Allen: So, let’s jump right in. You served as the CEO for the social media platform Parler for about six months. You joined, obviously, during a very, very rocky time. Parler had just been kicked off of Apple’s App Store, out of Google. So, talk a little bit about that decision of deciding, “I’m going to step into this role in this critical time for Parler and act as their CEO.”

Meckler: You know, it wasn’t so much to act as CEO. My first thought was, I had a friend who was the financier behind Parler. And so I saw Parler get taken down. And the big hit was really Amazon Web Services. When they shut off their servers, they went dark, right? So that was the real bad thing. I saw that. I’m just a kind of a person, if there’s a firefight, I’m going to run toward the gunfire.

And so I called her up and just said, “Are you OK and do you need any help?” And this is something I find in the conservative movement that’s a problem, really, which is a lot of us, when we see somebody get attacked, we see somebody go down, we kind of step back. There’s a natural tendency among conservatives to think, “Well, maybe they did something wrong. I don’t really know. You know, I don’t know what’s going on. I’m busy with my own life.”

My tendency is to step in and lean in. And so, really, the way it started was me just leaning in and saying, “Are you OK? And do you need anything? And do you need help?” And her immediate response was, “Yes, I need help.”

And so that’s how the whole thing started. And it really wasn’t, “Do you need help? Do you need a CEO?” It was just, “Do you need help?” And I have a background in technology and I have a background in building large organizations with a technological foundation. So it just seemed like I could offer some stuff and moral support as well. And so that’s really what I went to the table with.

And over time, as I started to help, as we had to let the former CEO go, it just seemed like, you know, it was one of those moments I think, Virginia, where somebody says, “Yeah, we need a CEO.” And everybody looks at you and you look over your shoulder, like, “Who else is here?” It was me. And so that’s how I ended up as CEO of Parler.

Allen: And that was such a critical time for Parler, like you said. After the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, Parler wound up in a really, really challenging position and Amazon, Google, Apple really went after you guys. So what were your thoughts as you were stepping into this position as CEO? What were your thoughts of “OK, these are the things that we need to tackle, these are the things we need to get resolved in order to get Parler back up and online for users”?

Meckler: Well, obviously, there’s a lot, and I’ve done turnarounds before. So coming in and doing triage is something I’m pretty comfortable with. And so there are multiple layers to it. You got to figure out where the bleeding is worst first.

And so in this case, it was just the fact that they were dark, right? So they were completely offline. They had no technology that allowed them to get back online. So the very first thing was, start to find a way to get them re-hosted. And hosted, obviously, somewhere off Amazon Web Services, off Big Tech in general, in a safe way.

To be fair, there was a great staff in place, and so a lot of this stuff when I stepped in was already going on. It wasn’t like I came in and with a Superman cape and saved the day. There was a great team there. They’d been working around the clock. They’d been in the trenches together. They’d been under attack for awhile. Stuff was in motion.

So when I came in [I] just triaged, trying to figure out what I thought was good, what was not good, and try to solidify the direction of the organization, and getting the technology back online. That was Step One.

Allen: What did Apple and Google want Parler to do in order to restore the app to their platforms?

Meckler: There’s actually three pieces to this and the sequence matters. The first thing that happened is the Google Play Store announced that they might be taking Parler off of the Play Store after the Jan. 6 events. That happened specifically because Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook the day before said all of this stuff took place on Parler, they have an inability to moderate their content for this kind of stuff, and it’s all their fault.

And by the way, history has proved that to be completely untrue. It was really Facebook and Instagram. They represented over two-thirds of the quote-unquote “planning” that took place online. It was on Facebook and Instagram. Also, Twitter had a chunk of it. Facebook itself was 54% of all charging documents in the crimes related to Jan. 6 mentioned Facebook, 14% Twitter, 14% Instagram, 5% Parler. So Parler had almost no role in this.

So, she points at Parler. Google says, “We might be taking you off.” Apple then does take us off the App Store. Both of those things, in my opinion, are survivable hits, right? People already have the apps on their phones. So the apps will still work. We’re going to be OK.

The next step is the one that really killed us, which is Amazon flipped the switches. So the website was hosted on Amazon. This is a warning, by the way, for everybody in the conservative movement.

If you’re on AWS [Amazon Web Services], you should contact me. I’ll teach you how to get off. They can flip the switch on any of us at any time. I’ve had a bunch of people tell me, “Well, you know, you should sue Amazon.” And certainly, Parler has done that. They have a billion-dollar annual litigation budget, and I would challenge anybody. As a lawyer, I can tell you, you don’t want to face off against that.

So those were the three steps that happened. Amazon didn’t want anything from the company. I mean it was just, “You’re down. You’re done. You’re gone.”

Allen: Wow, there was no negotiating.

Meckler: No negotiation whatsoever. It was just, they flipped the switches and we were off. Apple, there were a lot of ongoing negotiations that took place until we came to the current moment, a couple of weeks ago, when they got back on the App Store.

Google? The company never tried to negotiate with Google. And the reason is Google are … they’re just censorious tech oligarchs. They were never going to allow Parler to be a free speech platform. And frankly, because of the operating system, that’s an Android operating system, it allows sideloading.

And for your listeners who don’t know what sideloading is, it means that you can download an app straight from a website. You don’t have to go through the Google Play Store. And so Android folks could always get the app from Parler once the Parler site came back on. But with Apple, it’s 55% of the U.S. phone market, [and the] only way to get the app is from the App Store. So that’s why there was a different approach for Google versus Apple.

Also, one last thing to say about Apple. I don’t appreciate what Apple did. I think what they did is very wrong. Apple has a different perspective than the other Big Tech companies. I don’t trust them. I don’t like them. I want to be really clear with that. But they have a penchant for data privacy.

And that’s a big hallmark of Parler, is we believe in data sovereignty, data privacy, data security. Apple is the same way. They don’t cooperate with the government regarding turning over data unless they’re forced to. And so, this is an important thing that Apple and Parler had in common. Even though we were at odds, this idea of data sovereignty, or data privacy, is common to the two companies.

Allen: That’s fascinating. Well, so now Parler is back up. You were able to work out that negotiation with Apple. What about with Amazon, though? Because they didn’t want to negotiate. So how were you all able to get back up and running without Amazon?

Meckler: Yep. So, first, I want to clarify what happened with Apple because this is important. It was not a total win for Parler. It was about a 75% win, I would say.

And I’d have to give credit where it’s due. Our chief policy officer, Amy Peikoff, is an absolute genius [with the] patience of a saint who worked with Apple for a long time to make this happen. And the compromise—which again, we’re not happy with, but was the best we could do, and we’re continuing, the company’s continuing this negotiation—was that there are certain things that Apple said couldn’t appear on the version of the app that’s in the App Store.

So there’s a certain amount of content that Apple will censor … That content is content where somebody is attacked on the basis of immutable characteristics. So it’s race. It’s sex. It’s gender. It’s religious belief.

And frankly, these are discussions that serve no purpose. Most people don’t want to see that content anyway, but that stuff will be filtered out. And there’s a pop-up that comes up and says, “Apple doesn’t believe you should see this content. If you really want to see this content, use the Android app or log onto the website at Parler.com where Parler doesn’t filter any of that stuff.”

Parler believes in a First Amendment free speech standard. Meaning, if it’s legal to say it in the town square, you can say it on Parler. It means it might be unpleasant, and we have a troll filter. There is a troll filter on Parler. It pops up. You wouldn’t normally see that kind of content anyway unless you wanted to.

But that’s the distinction that had to be made with Apple. And as far as I know, those negotiations are still ongoing with Apple to prove to Apple that we think that’s the better way to censor—or not even censor—to produce content that people can make their own choices in what they want to see or not see. So … that’s the Apple piece.

The Amazon piece—to go there—it just required going out and finding people who knew the hosting space in the United States of America—because we want it to be hosted onshore—who could find us hosting providers that were safe, secure, and would stand with us in a firestorm. Because there’s a chance they’re going to … get hit by the woke mob and attacked for hosting Parler. So we needed to know that we had safe and secure hosting.

Allen: And what is Parler’s relationship with Google right now?

Meckler: Really no relationship. In other words, they’re not on the App Store or on the Google Play Store at all. Don’t really care. The Android users get the app directly from Parler.com.

Allen: Moving forward, do you feel confident that Parler has been able to navigate these conversations well? We’re not going to see this again where we’re essentially forced to go dark? Or is there still something in the back of your mind that thinks, “We’re still in a little bit of a danger area?”

Meckler: No, I’m very confident. I think Parler has set up technologically. Their tech stack is completely off of Big Tech. It’s non-Big Tech reliant. They continue to build redundancies into the stack. That’s really important for anybody out there who’s in our movement, who wants to be sure they’re secure.

I talked to a lot of people, they said, “Well, we trust our hosting provider.” I asked them, “Well, how many hosting providers do you have?” If they say one—which is what most people say, you don’t want to duplicate your expense—my saying in tech is “one is none,” because all it takes is one minute. They decide they’re going to shut you off and you’re dead.

I recommend that people have two to three hosting providers. If you have three hosting providers and you lose one, you’ve got one and a backup.

Allen: Interesting.

Meckler: Having one is very dangerous. Parler is continuing to build redundancy. I’m really comfortable with the solidity of the technology. They’ve rebuilt the platform from the ground up, literally. So the technology is now much better than it was before they went dark. I think they’re positioned really well on a go-forward basis.

Allen: And you have just announced that you have stepped down as the CEO of Parler. George Farmer is taking over. Talk a little bit about that decision to step away.

Meckler: Yeah, for me, it was never intended to be permanent. I didn’t go in expecting to be CEO, right? And so, I have a passion and that’s restoring the country to self-governance.

The reason that I went to Parler, I explained I had a friend who was behind Parler, but also the fight for free speech is the fight. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re a conservative, a libertarian, a free thinker in America, it doesn’t matter what your issue is. If your issue is guns; if your issue is taxes; if your issue is regulatory reform; if it’s convention of states like me, if you can’t speak online, you’re done. It’s that simple.

And so to me, Parler was the point of the spear. And if we allowed Big Tech and the Big Tech oligarchs to take Parler offline and leave it offline permanently, they drew a line in the sand that we might never be able to cross again. So for me, the issue was get Parler back online, help them get back into the App Store.

And again, it’s important to me to be really clear: I didn’t do all that, right? There’s a great staff there. Amy Peikoff is incredible. George Farmer has now taken over to take the company into the future. Becca Mercer, who is the financier behind Parler, a great warrior, patriot. This was really a team effort. I stepped into the middle of a team. So, frankly, I deserve very little of the credit.

Allen: That’s so critical to have that solid team behind you and working with you. I think one of the reasons why Americans were so frustrated by what they were seeing with Parler is that for so long, especially as conservatives, we held to the value of, “OK, if you’re seeing something that you don’t like, be entrepreneurial, go start your own.” That’s what Parler did, said, “We don’t like what we’re seeing on Twitter, on Facebook.” They started their own social media platform and then they were essentially punished for doing so. What are your thoughts on this?

Meckler: I think it’s a moment of reckoning and I would agree with you. This is what we’ve always been told. And this is what the left says to the right, “Hey, if you don’t like Facebook, if you don’t like Twitter, build your own.” It’s not easy to do, by the way. And it’s not really the technology, it’s getting the people onto the platform and that’s the hard part.

And so, once Parler had done that, I think it was seen as an existential threat by folks at Twitter and Facebook. We know that Sheryl Sandberg struck out against the company. And there are a couple of reasons why. One is, they, frankly, have enough money. I mean, how much money does [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg need or Facebook need or Twitter need, right? It’s not a money thing for them anymore. It is a control thing.

And what they didn’t like is Parler was outside of their realm of control. Parler truly is a free speech platform. They don’t like free speech. So that was very threatening to them. A lot of people were going there for free speech. That’s No. 1.

No. 2, it breaks their financial model. Their financial model is that they own your data. They own my data. They consider you and I a commodity, not human beings, but numbers and facts and figures and traffic, right? That’s how they look at human beings. Parler was an entirely different and is an entirely different model. Parler believes in data sovereignty, and what that means is you own your own data. Your data is yours, you are your data, and Parler doesn’t monetize data.

And so the idea that a social media platform could exist without monetizing data is very dangerous to Facebook and Twitter and these other social media platforms. Parler is monetized through advertising dollars only.

It’s actually more like a radio station. So when people want to advertise on Parler, they’re advertising it to the stream of one of the influencers and they’re buying ad space in those streams. I would say—generally—it’s not as lucrative as selling people’s data, but it’s also moral and ethical, and I don’t believe that selling people’s data is.

Allen: As we have these conversations about Big Tech, how do we think about actually accepting that challenge as conservatives and taking practical steps to push back?

Meckler: I think the biggest thing is to take a big swig of reality. And it’s not very tasty and it’s really ugly. And my experience now in going around the conservative moon and talking to people about it, most people still have not accepted that what happened to Parler could happen to them. They see it as some sort of outlier, but it’s not an outlier.

It’s happened to James O’Keefe at [Project] Veritas. It’s happened to other people in a variety of ways. PragerU demonetized on YouTube. We are under their thumb and any conservative—whether you’re a conservative business person or you’re running a nonprofit organization—if you believe that it’s not going to happen to you, then you’re just foolish. Eventually, it is going to happen to you.

By the way, it might be happening to you right now and you don’t even know it; 55% of all websites in the world are hosted on AWS, Amazon Web Services.

That means they could look at your data and they are looking at your data if they can. It also means they can flip the switch on you any time they consider you too dangerous, inappropriate, politically incorrect. And there’s not much you can do.

So we as conservatives have to accept that reality. And then we have to build around it. We have to build a conservative, libertarian infrastructure that supports free speech.

Allen: I briefly want to ask you about Section 230. That’s a [provision in law] that really protects social media platforms from being held liable for what is posted on their sites. There’s a lot of talk about reforming Section 230. What are your thoughts on this?

Meckler: Well, I’ve been involved in the technology industry. I actually remember when 230 was put in place as part of the Communications Decency Act. I’ve been doing internet advertising law since ‘93. So that was in 1996.

You got the CDA, 230 is part of the CDA. The real question in 230 is about good faith. There’s these words—“good faith”—and then there’s another phrase in there—“otherwise objectionable.” So in other words, these social media platforms have the authority to remove content that’s otherwise objectionable as long as they do it in good faith.

So the question [is], what does that mean? I mean, those are incredibly vague terms, right? Well, now they’re using [them] to take down things that they find politically objectionable or objectionable to their standards of what’s politically correct. It’s a very dangerous place we find ourselves in. My position is very similar to what The Heritage Foundation believes.

[The Heritage Foundation] put out a paper—a great paper—about we need to reform 230. We’ll not remove 230. I think if we remove 230, what happens is comment sections—for example, on The Daily Signal—you would be able to have no comment section because you would be liable for everything in the comment section. [Editor’s note: The Daily Signal stopped allowing reader comments under articles some months ago.] And companies that exist on the web, they just can’t do it. It’s impossible to survive. So I think reform is necessary.

But I also want to caution conservatives on this issue. We’re not going to get it done with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House. And so that means for now, that’s not our focus. The theoretical discussion can be had. We shouldn’t waste a lot of energy on it because it’s kind of dead letter until we have a Republican Congress.

Allen: Right now, as the new CEO of Parler, George Farmer, why do you see him as the right person to be moving Parler forward in a really critical time?

Meckler: I mean, time will tell. I would say there’s two reasons. He’s young, which is a good thing, I think, for a social media platform. He grew up in the social media era. I’m an old guy and, you know, I’m 59 years old. So comparatively, really, he’s a young guy.

For those who don’t know, he’s married to Candace Owens, who obviously is in the heart of the conservative movement, is kind of a firebrand and a lightning rod in the movement. Absolutely a free thinker. And I think also importantly, [she is] somebody who falls in the center of what we refer to as the red pill movement, right?

So she came from the left, came to the right, [began] working to help other people transition over. It seems to me that’s a good influence for the company right now.

Allen: Talk a little bit about what you’re up to. I know you never stopped doing your other job, but talk a little bit about what you’re focused on now.

Meckler: Yeah, so, my main passion is to take power away from Washington, D.C., and give it back to the people. I was one of the founders of the tea party movement. So I watched that wave in 2010. We took over Congress. We had the biggest sweep since 1938.

I thought everything would change, and nothing changed. I mean, it was really … it was stunning. It was disheartening. It made me a lot more cynical. We heard that if we took the Senate in 2012, everything would change. Nothing changed.

And so I realized that there was a bigger problem. The bigger problem is that it’s not about personnel. We have a structural problem in Washington, D.C. We’ve broken the structure of our system of governance.

The Founders set up this beautifully well-balanced structure. It was intended to balance the states against the federal government, the branches against each other at the federal level. Over the last 115 years, we’ve broken that in a lot of different ways, primarily Congress doing things and then the Supreme Court and the federal court saying it’s OK.

Simply put, what we’ve done is we took a government that was designed around a limited set of enumerated powers, and we flipped that on its head and we’ve given them broad unenumerated powers in the interpretation of the [Constitution’s] commerce clause and general welfare clause, [the] necessary and proper clause, right? Things that the Founders never intended. And we’ve taken all that power away from the people and the states.

So the Convention of States Project uses Article V of the Constitution. The second clause says, whenever two-thirds of the states should ask for it, then Congress calls a convention. We get together in convention. We debate and potentially propose amendments, and we send them out to the states for ratification.

The purpose is, take the power away from the federal government and give it back to the people in the states where it belongs. So that’s my passion and that’s what I’m back to doing full time.

Allen: That’s wonderful. That’s such critical work, so important, and we’re glad that you’re pursuing that.

Meckler: Thank you.

Allen: Mr. Meckler, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate your coming on.

Meckler: Thanks for having me.

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