UPDATE: Late Saturday, Apple removed Parler from the App Store.
“We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity,” Apple said in a statement provided to Variety. “Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues.”
Parler, the social-media app popular among Trump loyalists and right-wingers, was removed from the Google Play Store late Friday — with the internet giant alleging Parler failed to remove “egregious content like posts that incite violence.”
On Friday, Apple had warned Parler, which styles itself as a “free speech” alternative to Twitter or Facebook, that the app faces a ban from the App Store within 24 hours if it didn’t remove content that “encourages illegal activity.”
Before it was banned from Apple’s App Store, Parler was the No. 1 trending app on Saturday in the U.S. In its response to Apple’s concerns, Parler told the tech company it had been taking violent speech and calls for illegal activity on its app “very seriously for weeks” through a moderation plan put in place “for the time being.” Per Apple’s guidelines, it requires apps to have robust content moderation plans in place.
“Parler has not upheld its commitment to moderate and remove harmful or dangerous content encouraging violence and illegal activity, and is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines,” Apple told the app company in a notice Saturday.
The moves came as Twitter permanently banned Donald Trump, citing the potential risk that the aggrieved lame-duck president will foment additional violence among his supporters. Trump accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch and other platforms also have been indefinitely or permanently blocked after his role in organizing and supporting the insurrectionist mob that occupied the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a deadly clash with police.
In a statement, Google said that “to protect user safety on Google Play, our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.” It continued, “We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the U.S.” and said that “In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”
The Google Play ban reduces Parler’s visibility, but because of Android’s open architecture that version of the app is still available as a direct download from the Parler website.
Apple’s removal of Parler for iOS is a more serious blow, given that the tech colossus’ App Store is the only way to get apps for its iPhone and iPad devices (although users who have already installed the iOS app are still able to use it following a removal from the App Store).
Parler founder and CEO John Matze, in a post on the app Friday, decried the actions by the tech giants, accusing them of double standards. “Standards not applied to Twitter, Facebook or even Apple themselves, apply to Parler,” he wrote. Matze said Parler’s community guidelines prohibit violent speech (including “threats of violence” and “advocacy of imminent lawless action”) and claimed the company has always enforced those rules.
“[W]e WONT cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!” Matze wrote. According to the exec, “Most people on Parler are non-violent people who want to share their opinions, food pics and more.”
Matze also posted a screenshot in the app of Apple’s notice to the company outlining “serious App Store guideline violations.”
“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,” Apple’s Jan. 8 notice says. “We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”
By Apple’s logic, Matze argued, Apple “must be responsible for ALL actions” taken by customers of their phones, including “Every car bomb, every illegal cell phone conversation, every illegal crime committed on an iPhone.” He also claimed Google did not send Parler an explanation for why it decided to ban the app prior to the removal from the Play Store.
Founded in 2018, Parler boasts about its hands-off approach to moderation, in contrast to the stepped-up policing by mainstream social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
While Trump himself currently does not have an account on Parler, his son Donald Trump Jr. is active on the app as are right-wing figures like Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
“Speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views,” the company says on its website. “Engage with real people, not bots. Parler is people and privacy-focused, and gives you the tools you need to curate your Parler experience.”