US Conservatives Increasingly Flee Twitter and Facebook for Upstart Parler

Membership surged from 4.5 million to 8 million in a week

Smartphone screenshots of the Parler app
Parler claimed the top spot on the iTunes App Store free apps chart and Google Play. Parler

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect new information about Parler’s owners.

The predominantly conservative user base of social media platform Parler may be stewing over the results of the presidential election in the U.S., but the opposite is likely true for the company’s owners—whoever they are.

The platform saw a spike in users, doubling from roughly 4.5 million members last week to about 8 million this week, and surging to 4 million active devices from 500,000 two weeks ago, according to Parler chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick. He added that daily active devices are up approximately tenfold and session growth is up 20 times on the app.

An explosion in growth for Parler was fueled by users that felt Twitter and Facebook’s recent moves to clamp down on misinformation and hate speech were biased against conservatives.

Social media consultant Matt Navarra told Adweek that platforms that “alternative destinations” like Parler “become tarnished with that brush of being a place for these controversial, extreme views, opinions and content [that other platforms don’t allow and] that often many brands don’t want to be associated with and wouldn’t go anywhere near.”

He added that the potential for profitability by upstart platforms along the lines of Parler is thus curtailed. “The market for advertisers and brands willing to part with money and associate with those platforms, the creators and influencers on them and the things they’re putting out is far, far smaller,” Navarra said.

Parler was No. 7 among free iPhone apps in the U.S. on Nov. 7 before hitting the top spot the next day, Sensor Tower’s mobile insights strategist Stephanie Chan told Adweek. For comparison, the app was No. 1,023 on Nov. 2, the day before Election Day.

The pattern was the same on Google Play, where Parler went from No. 486 in overall app downloads on Nov. 2 to fifth on Nov. 8, reaching the top spot the next day.

The app was installed approximately 636,000 times from both the Apple and Google app stores in the U.S. on Nov. 8, according to estimates from Sensor Tower. That’s a record single-day high for Parler, dwarfing the previous mark of about 119,000 on June 26.

GroupM global president, business intelligence Brian Wieser did not address Parler specifically, but told Adweek, “In general, any seller of ad inventory that has meaningful scale still needs to ensure that it is viewed as brand safe in order to gain scale in ad sales. Overt association with a partisan point-of-view may limit the appeal of any given environment.”

While Parler’s user base of 8 million pales in comparison to Twitter’s 187 million daily active users or Facebook’s 1.82 billion daily active users, its pitch of championing “free speech” has made it a home for prominent conservative voices, such as Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Fox News host Sean Hannity, radio personality Mark Levin, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, California Rep. Devin Nunes, Trump campaign director Brad Parscale and Eric Trump.

While outgoing President Donald Trump does not have an active profile on Parler, campaign adviser Katrina Pierson said last week that Twitter would become “irrelevant” if Trump joined the upstart platform, according to Newsweek.

How it compares to competitors

For now, the platform does not carry ads, and CEO John Matze said in a June interview with Fox Business that Parler was not profitable. That same day, he told Fortune he planned to add advertising to the platform, along with an initiative where brands are matched with Parler influencers posting sponsored content on their behalf, with the company taking a cut. Parler provided no update on its advertising plans.

“Getting more well-known companies, influencers and creators to want to join, use and associate with the platform is more of a problem than creating the products and the app and building it out,” Navarra noted.

Navarra admitted that Parler may have a better chance of success due to outgoing President Donald Trump’s use of social media and other conservatives that have been removed from mainstream platforms, like former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. But he was still cautious to predict financial gains.

“[Twitter] has lost user trust, not necessarily because it engages in content curation per se, but because of the opaque and seemingly contradictory process by which that curation is carried out,” said Wernick in an email to Adweek.

Wernick continued, “Facebook has lost user trust because it has repeatedly mishandled and misused the troves of private data it collects, not only about its users, but about anyone associated with them. Further, as detailed in [Netflix documentary] The Social Dilemma, Facebook is thought to be using algorithms, drawing on that data, to manipulate users.”

Parler’s privacy policy details several ways data is used by the platform that mirror other social networks’ policies, including personalizing users’ experience, developing new products/features, providing content recommendations and serving relevant promotional and advertising materials (presumably for future initiatives).

The company also stated in its policy that it “may share any information we receive with vendors and service providers retained in connection with the provision of our services.”

“Our growth is not attributable to any one person or group, but rather to Parler’s efforts to earn our community’s trust, both by protecting their privacy and being transparent about the way in which their content is handled on our platform,” Wernick said.

The “Stop the Steal” movement, which claims that the election was rigged, seems to have found a home on Parler after Facebook removed a public group of approximately 360,000 people last week. The Verge reported that there were 8,697 posts on Parler with the #StopTheSteal hashtag that same day.

How it began

Founded in Henderson, Nev., in August 2018 by University of Denver computer science alumni Matze and chief technology officer Jared Thomson, the platform operates in the same manner as other social networks. Users can get verified by sending a copy of their government-issued IDs.

In its short life, Parler has had a few user spikes.

Its user base reached 100,000 in May 2019, with roughly 40,000 attributed to a 2018 tweet by conservative activist Candace Owens. The platform also experienced surges in June 2019 when roughly 200,000 people in Saudi Arabia signed up, with many citing frustration over “censorship” by Twitter, and in the middle of this year after conservatives in the U.S. also complained about Facebook’s and Twitter’s policies.

After the rush of new users in June, Matze felt the need to reinforce the platform’s rules and privacy guidelines, posting on June 30: “When you disagree with someone, posting pictures of your fecal matter in the comment section will not be tolerated.”

Fecal matter aside, it’s not quite “anything goes” on Parler. The company said in July that it added 200 volunteer content moderators to deal with content posted by or on behalf of terrorist organizations, child pornography, copyright violations and content posted by bots. The company did not respond to a question about whether this number had changed.

Little is known about Parler’s ownership. The company is funded by angel investors, and Matze told CNBC in June that he hoped for an institutional funding round. Parler declined to discuss its ownership or how much they have invested into the platform.

The lone exception to the cloud of secrecy is conservative podcast host Dan Bongino. Bongino revealed June 16 that he had taken an undisclosed ownership stake in Parler.

After The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that Rebekah Mercer, daughter of hedge fund investor Robert Mercer, was Parler’s lead investor, Rebekah Mercer and Matze confirmed it on Parler.

Mercer sold his stake in conservative media outlet Brietbart News to his daughters in November 2017. He was also a principal investor in now-defunct Cambridge Analytica, the company that harvested Facebook user data in an attempt to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.

Rebekah Mercer is a member of the board of conservative think tank Goldwater Institute. Politico called her “the most powerful woman in GOP politics” in September 2016, and in January 2018, The Washington Post named her as “the first lady of the alt-right.”

She posted on Parler Sunday, “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. … 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.”

Matze responded, “Bekah is a great friend, an American patriot and, most important, committed to the Parler vision of neutrality and data privacy. We are grateful for her support since 2018, and her early faith in the founders has enabled us to reach these heights.” David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.