Apple has given Parler, the social network favored by conservatives and extremists, an ultimatum to implement a full moderation plan of its platform within the next 24 hours or face expulsion from the App store.
In an email sent this morning and obtained by BuzzFeed News, Apple wrote to Parler’s executives that there had been complaints that the service had been used to plan and coordinate the storming of the US Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters on Wednesday. The insurrection left five people dead, including a police officer.
“We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property,” Apple wrote to Parler. “The app also appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.”
Apple said that “to ensure there is no interruption of the availability of your app on the App Store,” Parler was required to submit an update and a “requested moderation improvement plan within 24 hours of the date of the message,” which was sent on Friday morning. Apple said if it did not receive an update from the company within that time frame, the app would be removed from the App store.
An Apple spokesperson declined to comment.
A few hours later, Google issued a similar ultimatum telling Parler that its app’s listing in the Google Play store would be suspended until it implements a moderation plan that will address “this ongoing and urgent public safety threat.”
On Parler, CEO John Matze struck a defiant tone. “We will not cave to pressure from anti-competitive actors! We will and always have enforced our rules against violence and illegal activity. But we WONT cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!” he wrote in a message.
“Anyone who buys an Apple phone is apparently a user. Apperently they know what is best for you by telling you which apps you may and may not use,” he added.
Launched in 2018, Parler has become a safe haven for people that have been banned or suspended by popular social networks including Facebook and Twitter for violating those platforms’ rules. The Henderson, Nevada–based company has billed itself as a free speech alternative to mainstream social networks and taken a more relaxed approach to content moderation, attracting conspiracy theorists, members of hate groups, and right-wing activists who have openly incited violence. Recent threads on Parler, for example, have called for the execution of Vice President Mike Pence, and encouraged the conspiracy theory that left-wing antifa activists were behind Wednesday’s events.
Republican lawmakers including Sen. Ted Cruz and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as well as President Donald Trump’s family members and surrogates have all established accounts on Parler, and have urged their followers on other social media sites to migrate there.
“Content of this dangerous and harmful nature is not appropriate for the App Store. As you know from prior conversations with App Review, Apple requires apps with user generated content to effectively moderate to ensure objectionable, potentially harmful content is filtered out,” the iPhone maker wrote in its letter. “Content that threatens the well being of others or is intended to incite violence or other lawless acts has never been acceptable on the App Store.”
The full text of the letter follows:
We require your immediate attention regarding serious App Store guideline violations that we have found with your app, Parler.
We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property. The app also appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.
Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service, found here: https://legal.parler.com/documents/Elaboration-on-Guidelines.pdf
Examples of these complaints can be viewed on these links:
Content of this dangerous and harmful nature is not appropriate for the App Store. As you know from prior conversations with App Review, Apple requires apps with user generated content to effectively moderate to ensure objectionable, potentially harmful content is filtered out. Content that threatens the well being of others or is intended to incite violence or other lawless acts has never been acceptable on the App Store.
Your CEO was quoted recently saying “But I don’t feel responsible for any of this and neither should the platform, considering we’re a neutral town square that just adheres to the law.” We want to be clear that Parler is in fact responsible for all the user generated content present on your service and for ensuring that this content meets App Store requirements for the safety and protection of our users. We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.
We have now rejected your app for the App Store Review Guidelines detailed below.
Guideline 1.1 – Safety – Objectionable Content
We found that your app includes content that some users may find upsetting, offensive, or otherwise objectionable. Specifically, we found direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action.
Guideline 1.2 – Safety – User Generated Content
Your app enables the display of user-generated content but does not have sufficient precautions in place to effectively manage objectionable content present in your app.
See the attached screenshots for more details.
Nothing is more important to the App Store than the safety of our users. You must resolve these issue immediately for your app to remain on the App Store.
Please remove all objectionable content from your app and submit your revised binary for review. Such content includes any content similar to the examples attached to this message, as well as any content referring to harm to people or attacks on government facilities now or at any future date. In addition, you must respond to this message with detailed information about how you intend to moderate and filter this content from your app, and what you will do to improve moderation and content filtering your service for this kind of objectionable content going forward.
To ensure there is no interruption of the availability of your app on the App Store, please submit an update and the requested moderation improvement plan within 24 hours of the date of this message. If we do not receive an update compliant with the App Store Review Guidelines and the requested moderation improvement plan in writing within 24 hours, your app will be removed from the App Store.
If you have any questions about this message, please reply and let us know.
App Review Board