Parler should be taken seriously as a hotbed of extremism and conspiracy theories, a new study shows

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Parler should be taken seriously as a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and online radicalization, a new study indicates.

Parler is an app and website that bills itself as a free-speech alternative to Twitter. It is popular with right-wing supporters of outgoing US president Donald Trump and is prominent in media reports currently because pro-Trump rioters aired their plans to attack the US Capitol beforehand on the app.

Since then, Google has banned Parler from its Play Store, while Apple has given the app 24 hours to improve its moderation policies or face a ban there.

A January analysis of 120 million posts and 12 million users of Parler showed discussions were dominated by conspiracy theories.

Academics from the US, UK, and Germany studied the two-year-old microblogging platform up to December 2020.

The researchers found that the platform is a right-wing echo chamber: the most popular words in Parler users’ bios were “conservative”, “god”, “Trump”, “love”, “Christian” and “patriot”; while “Trump supporter” and “proud American” were among the most popular phrases.

And Parler has gained most of its users after posts from high-profile right-wing personalities, or mainstream media coverage.

In the days following the US presidential election, concerns that mainstream media was censoring election results resulted in more than 1.4 million people joining Parler each on November 8 and 9.

“You could see there’s actual impact of someone saying something on Twitter or a different site, and then the resulting migration or activity on Parler,” says Max Aliapoulios of New York University, one of the authors of the study.

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“It shows that when you market a platform towards a specific vulnerable demographic, it’s not that hard to achieve an initial userbase,” adds one of his co-authors, Dr Jeremy Blackburn of Binghampton University. “If you target it the right way, people will go and sign up immediately.”

When there, users are confronted with a litany of posts outlining purported election fraud.

Alongside the hashtags “Trump2020” and “MAGA”, used nearly 370,000 times on posts, others included “WWG1WGA”, short for a phrase used by QAnon (113,322 times) and others including “stopthesteal”, “election fraud” and “thegreatawakening”.

“From 4chan to Twitter, people have been able to get into their own extremist subcultures which are incestuous both in terms of the snowballing effect of believing in conspiracies and in sending people from one platform to another,” says Dr Carolina Are, an online moderation and conspiracy theories researcher, who was not involved in the paper.

“I’m not surprised people would have migrated into Parler to discuss extremist thoughts and conspiracies and to coordinate this week’s events. But I think many of them actually used mainstream social media too,” she says.

That’s borne out in the analysis of Parler: 15.6% of posts contained links. While most — 2.9 million — are to Parler itself, showing evidence that users are linking to other conversations on the site, the next most popular site linked to is YouTube, with 1.3 million links in posts.

Twitter also features in the top five most-linked to sites, while right-wing news outlets such as …read more

Source:: Businessinsider – Tech

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