Parler Interim CEO Mark Meckler Talks Relaunch, Data Privacy, and Building A New Independent Tech Stack
The social media platform Parler is back online, a month after it was removed from the Apple and Google Play store and disconnected from Amazon’s web hosting service following the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Parler’s new interim CEO, Mark Meckler, discusses Parler’s relaunch and his vision for creating a new tech ecosystem of companies and services that believe in free speech.
Jan Jekielek: Mark Meckler, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Mark Meckler: I’m glad to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Mark, the last time we talked, it was in a very different role. Actually, now you’re the interim CEO of Parler, the free speech social media that was taken down just over a month ago. And as of Monday you’re back. We’ve actually been using you. I’ve been using you on the desktop version, mainly. It’s been working, but not entirely perfectly. I wanted to give you an opportunity to give us an update of where things are right now.
Mr. Meckler: Yes, for a little background—when you get taken off the web, I think most people underestimate what that means. If we use a website and it works flawlessly, we never think about the technology. And having had to dig in to see the technology stack that’s required to run something like this, it’s incredibly complex. There are a lot of layers to it from the ground and the cloud.
All of that stuff had to be rebuilt in order to be back on the web. So to be back up, I’m just proud of the staff. There’s an incredible group of people behind the scenes working 20 hour days to make this happen. We knew when we launched that it wouldn’t be perfect.
It’s impossible to do something this complex to be perfect when you launch. We knew there would be some limitations. There have been some bounces and glitches along the way. I agree with you, I think the web version is working better. We had some problems with the iOS version for those who are using Apple devices. The problem there is something to do with the App Store.
I think we’ve fixed most of that now, but we’re not up on the App Store yet, which means you can’t upgrade your app. We can’t remove the bugs from the app, so we have to wire around those. There is a little bit more glitchiness there. Part of it is load-glitchiness as we get surges in traffic as we do media. We’re doing our best to manage those surges.
Today is much better than we were on Monday, but I would expect to see—you’re still going to see bumps and hiccups along the way, but over the next week or so you should see that really even out and things should be a lot better.
Mr. Jekielek: This has happened to me a few times, and I’ve heard from other users as well that sometimes you just try to load the site—this is desktop again, I’ve been pretty much using that exclusively—you just get “site not found.” You try to refresh, it doesn’t happen. What should people be thinking when they see that?
Mr. Meckler: Well, don’t think that we’ve been taken off the web, because we haven’t been. Just understand that this is complex, and there are a lot of things going on in the background. I’ll give you a specific example, and this is kind of the nature of the complexity.
We did have a problem with iOS, that is the operating system that’s on your phone if you’ve got an Apple phone, or that’s on your iPad. It was bouncing back a bunch of errors, and those errors were actually overloading the system. So it wasn’t exactly traffic, and we had to figure out how to wire around that.
Once in a while I expect this is going to happen. As I said, day by day, it should get better and better. We’ve been seeing uninterrupted time up, and the flow is improving every day, and I expect by the time we hit early next week, things should be pretty clear and smooth sailing.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, great. So tell me a little bit about the response. Obviously, there’s a lot of people that were very, very interested to see you back up. What are you hearing from the field, so to speak?
Mr. Meckler: I’ve been doing a bunch of interviews. Everybody’s really excited to be back on. I’m talking to my grassroots folks out there. As you know, from Convention of States I’ve got millions of folks that I know. They’re very excited to see it back up. Even with the glitches and the hiccups people keep trying, because they’re so excited to know that there’s a platform where they’re not going to be censored—people who [have] become so sensitive about what they can write on Facebook, what they can tweet about. It’s an incredible relief, just to know that there’s a platform dedicated to free speech where they’re not going to be censored for the things that they say.
Mr. Jekielek: I do want to talk a little bit about your philosophy of free speech here, because there were some questions about that recently. Before I go there, a lot of people have been reaching out, basically saying, “How do I get on Parler right now? It seems like you can’t, or is it only for existing users?” What’s the situation at the moment?
Mr. Meckler: Yes, we made a choice that for the first week we were going to cater to the existing Parler family and we wanted to make sure, and you’re seeing some of the hiccups, we wanted to make sure that we did the best we possibly could to take care of the existing user base—they can all log on, they can see their accounts exactly as they were before, they’re going to be following all the same people they were following. We wanted to make sure that worked and was stable before we open it up. Sometime next week, we’ll open it up for folks who want to add accounts to Parler. So be ready for that. I think we should expect another flood.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about the free speech element here. Basically, Parler has been portrayed from the beginning, and I know from the previous CEO who I’ve interviewed on this show, that the goal was to offer maximal viewpoint diversity, or at least the opportunity for that. I wanted to find out what your philosophy behind this is, and what people can expect to find, because typically, it’s portrayed as a very conservative platform.
Mr. Meckler: Yes, I want to push back on that first, and I know that is how it’s portrayed. It’s amazing all the articles that have been written just in the last couple of days: we’re far-right, we’re alt-right, whatever label they want to put on us. It’s something that I’ve been used to since my time in politics. I get portrayed that way. I’ve always been portrayed that way.
This is the left attempting to push us into a particular category, because they don’t value free speech, and they don’t want people listening to the things that people on our platform would say. The actual philosophy of the platform is that it welcomes everybody. We don’t have either President Trump on the platform or President Biden. We would welcome both of them on the platform.
We welcome viewpoint diversity, and not just political viewpoint diversity. I think this is really important. We hope that people will come on that have no interest, necessarily, in politics. I’m interested in the arts and music. We have gaming on here. People are big gamers and have gaming followings. We have people, again, musicians and artists, I think those things add to the fullness of life and the fullness of discourse online. We want all of it, regardless of viewpoint.
Mr. Jekielek: Another big question that I have, and we may actually go back to the free speech piece as well, more philosophically in general, a little later. But you describe Parler now as a truly independent platform, right? Given this whole technology stack that you just identified, and all these multiple dependencies, how can you guarantee this independence that you’re describing? What does that actually mean?
Mr. Meckler: What it means is independence from the big tech oligarchy. So obviously, we have vendors and providers that are not owned by Parler. So we’re not entirely independent of any outside dependence on technology, but all of our partners are people who are committed to free speech. For the most part, I’ve spoken to the CEOs of all the companies, they’re not going to be cowed by the woke mob.
We’ve been very careful about choosing partners that are not necessarily aligned with us politically, we’re not doing a political litmus test, we just want to make sure that they’re committed to free speech. We have those kinds of assurances from all of our partners up and down the technology stack.
I would add that’s not enough to be secure. We also need redundancy, meaning just in case we lose part of this deck, in case somebody does end up falling to the mob or maybe somebody comes under technology attack and we lose a particular service, we build redundancy into our services, so that we don’t have a single point of failure. One of the problems that we had in the past is that we had single points of failure, and when those got pulled, we were done. We’re very careful about that now, and we’ve built around and for that eventuality.
Mr. Jekielek: What’s the response of other social media companies out there to all this?
Mr. Meckler: They don’t seem to like it very much. The comments are generally negative from other social media providers. Mostly, we just ignore them, because, look, our position in the market is different than anybody else’s. We are the free speech platform. We believe in free speech, we believe in data sovereignty and privacy, and we believe in civil discourse. That’s what we’re here for. We were the dominant platform for that before we were taken down, and we’re going to be the dominant platform for that on a go-forward basis in the future. So mostly, we just ignore the other social media platforms.
Mr. Jekielek: I understand you’re actually in the process of launching or have launched a lawsuit against Amazon for taking down your hosting.
Mr. Meckler: Yes, that’s correct. First of all, just plain and simple: their breach of contract. The contract required a certain notice period before they shut down our hosting. They didn’t provide that notice period. There are also all kinds of antitrust violations that have taken place and possibly some free speech violations. There’s a state actor theory around free speech. We’ll be filing our first amended complaint here probably in the next week to 10 days. There’ll be a lot more news on that coming soon.
Mr. Jekielek: So what was the ostensible reason for being taken down?
Mr. Meckler: As best I can tell, and honestly it’s not really clear, the ostensible reason was allegations that we were not moderating content, that the events on January 6 at the Capitol were somehow the responsibility of Parler. What’s astounding about that is even Forbes has done an independent analysis that shows that while Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s head, said it’s all our fault, if you look at the actual numbers, probably numbers 10 times greater than anything found on Parler, barely a blip on Parler—it was Facebook, it was YouTube, it was Twitter—that’s where the bad activity was taking place for the most part, not much on Parler at all.
So I think this was a political hit, and I actually think it was a business hit. There are two things. They are trying to stifle free speech. They don’t like the idea that people can go online and say whatever they want to say, as long as it’s legal. They’re opposed to that philosophy.
The second is a business thread. Our model is entirely different than the other social media platforms. We’re not monetizing the data of our users. We don’t use algorithms, that big “A” word that everybody’s afraid of, and I think they should be—where they’re forcing content into your feed. If you go on Parler, the content you’re going to get is the content you want. You’re only going to get content from the people that you sign up to follow. This allows users to curate their own content. That’s a real threat to people like Facebook and Twitter and Google.
Mr. Jekielek: You are moderating however, clearly. I saw a release from, I forget right now the name of the provider, but is it Silk? It’s your cloud provider. Basically, the release said that they’re happy with the moderation initiatives that you’re putting in. Apparently, you’re using AI. So how does that work? Is it really free speech?
Mr. Meckler: Look, I want to be really clear: we don’t moderate. That’s an important distinction. We have community guidelines. Those guidelines are intended to prevent any kind of illegal activity. In other words, if you can do it in the town square, if you can say it in the town square, then you can do it on Parler. If you can’t, if you’re actually inciting violence according to the legal definition, if you’re making actual threats, that would be considered legally actionable threats, that’s not going to be allowed on Parler.
What we use is we have two layers of intervention in that regard. We use artificial intelligence to screen for those comments. And then backing that up, we have a human intervention to make sure—this is very important—to make sure that we’re not over-censoring. In other words, if anything is being screened out by artificial intelligence, and it’s done in a way that we don’t believe is correct and it’s still legal speech, then we have humans that intervene and make sure that that stuff is released.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned a little earlier that you’re not monetizing the data, which is kind of the standard business model these days. So what are you doing for money? What’s the idea here?
Mr. Meckler: Yes, it’s just a standard advertising model. If you think about how it works on the radio, if you listen to the radio, inserted in the programming that you would normally get on the radio, you’re going to get the occasional ad, or series of ads. So advertisers can buy advertising in the stream, and they can just decide where they want to put their ads in.
As you see content flow across your screen, occasionally, you’re going to see an ad, and those are advertisers just buying straight advertising time. By the way, it’s not because you fit a particular profile, or in any way the advertisers know what your data is, or who their advertisements will be in front of. They’re just choosing the streams that they want to put it in, and that’s where it shows up if you’re following those people.
Mr. Jekielek: Are you concerned that there will be attempts to cancel those advertisers because they’re working with you?
Mr. Meckler: Yes, absolutely. I would be stunned if that doesn’t happen. In fact, that’s what we’re seeing in media generally. We’re seeing a separate ecosystem of media providers that are getting a certain kind of advertiser that doesn’t care about the woke mob, but understands what their market is, and they’re willing to play directly into that market. Those are the kinds of advertisers that we expect to see on Parler. They could stand up against the woke mob.
We would invite everybody and we would encourage every advertiser to stand against the woke mob. It’s not a good business model, actually, to cater to the woke mob. Whether it’s a Fortune 500 company looking for advertising in this market, or a small mom and pop company that wants advertising, we’re going to be accepting all advertisers, just as we accept all points of view.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re describing this other ecosystem which is not constrained by, as you describe it, the woke mob. Explain to me this woke mob, in your mind. Who are these people?
Look, I think it’s a very small minority of people in America, some of them organized and paid for probably centrally. I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist, but what you see is anytime somebody steps out of line with what I would describe as the radical leftist orthodoxy, the woke mob descends.
Mr. Meckler: Some people call them the “twitterati,” and what they try to do is they try to get companies canceled. They try to get employees fired. They try to get people censored. So this is a mob mentality that now exists on the internet. It’s a very important, vitally important as a society, that we push back against this sort of censorious behavior, because censorship is more than just censoring speech. They’re trying to get people fired from their jobs, excluded from polite society, etc. This is a real danger, in my opinion to living in a civilized society.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re describing this situation where there’s this, as you said, alternate or different ecosystem developing which isn’t interested in what the people you just described would think. It’s almost like there are these parallel systems that are developing in many areas.
Mr. Meckler: I actually think this is correct. This is something that I have described previously as the great decoupling taking place in the United States, where we have two different ecosystems, so to speak. We’re starting to watch different things, listen to different things, read different things. I know a lot of people are concerned about this. I’m actually not concerned about it.
This country in its history has always been divided, in a way. The original colonies were very divided, until they had to face off together against the King of England. We’ve had divisions in our country for very long. Our system is actually designed to take this. The system of federalism is designed to take states that believe very differently, populations that believe very differently, and allow them to get along.
This idea of a monoculture where everybody listens to the same thing, reads the same thing, that’s really an anathema to a federalist system. This is actually a healthy development, where there are separate ecosystems for people who believe different ways. If you’re interested in getting different forms of information, you can crossover. Hopefully, Parler itself will be part of that crossover ecosystem where everybody is welcome.
Mr. Jekielek: So in line with these alternate ecosystems that you’re describing, you’ve also advocated for the development of a full alternative stack for building technology and financing, buying and selling, everything. Tell me about this.
Mr. Meckler: Yes, this is something that’s necessary in today’s world. What we’re seeing is, because of the cancel culture, there are vulnerabilities all through the system. We live in a digital world, we all exist in some form or another online, and it’s actually required that we do so. What that means is we’re vulnerable at each of these levels.
For example, for a company to exist online, you need hosting in the cloud, and so you’ve got servers in the cloud. As we experienced here at Parler, if you are on a hostile service provider, they can erase you from the cloud.
There are other layers of the stack that are required for people doing business in the cloud. For example, today email service providers, ESPs, are censoring their users. MailChimp is censoring their users, not allowing the use of certain terms like election integrity or election fraud. The same is going on with Constant Contact, another big email service provider.
So ultimately, there needs to be, and we have in development, an email service provider that won’t censor their users. It will be a lot like Parler. It will allow you to say anything you want to say, as long as it’s legal. We need those services. We need banking services. We’re seeing banks today that refuse to do business with, for example, gun manufacturers, or gun shops and that is expanding into people who just have conservative values.
We’re going to need our own banks, and so we’re out there seeking banks. I’ve found a couple of partners that are banks that are owned by people who believe in free speech and are not going to censor their customers or decide not to do business with people because they have the wrong political perspectives. These kinds of services are going to be necessary all the way through the stack.
Another example is what’s called merchant account providers, those who facilitate credit card processing. A lot of the credit card processors have been cutting off a variety of people. For example, Stripe, which is a major processor, cut off President Trump’s organization. So we need credit card processors that will agree that they’re going to process as long as it’s legal.
So the stack is large. There are a lot of components to it. Some need to be rebuilt from scratch. Some we just need to find the right providers. I’m in the process of helping to put all of that together.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s super interesting. From what you’re saying, this isn’t left and right. This is more like free speech and non-free speech? How do you describe the distinction here?
Mr. Meckler: That’s a great way to put it. One of the things that I think a lot of consumers and a lot of business consumers, a lot of B2B business to business consumers, is we just want these companies out of politics. But I’m not necessarily looking for companies that are conservative or libertarian or have a particular value set. I’m looking for companies that just want to do business and will remove politics and then those sorts of value judgments from business. So I agree, I think it’s free speech versus people who are censorious that are willing to use their businesses to shut down free speech,
Mr. Jekielek: But you would work with companies that support cancel culture, potentially?
Mr. Meckler: No, because the companies that support cancel culture, we can’t trust them not to cancel. So unless they’re committed to not supporting cancel culture, our position, my position, with these companies is just to get out of politics. Make a great product, provide a great service, let consumers help make your shareholders rich, we’re good with all of that. Just stay out of politics and stay in your lane, which is business.
Mr. Jekielek: Mark, from what you said earlier, this idea of viewpoint diversity is very important to you. You’re welcoming all sorts of people onto the platform. However, it has been somewhat typecast as a conservative platform at the moment. Are you doing some kind of outreach, or when do you intend to do this to try to explain the values and what Parler is all about?
Mr. Meckler: We’re constantly doing outreach. I’ll give you a very specific example, and people might be kind of shocked by this. Obviously, I’m a pretty conservative guy, so you might not expect this, but we’re reserving usernames for organizations that you might be surprised would be welcome here on Parler, if you think we’re a right wing organization. For example, we would reserve the username New York Times for the New York Times. We’re not going to let anybody else take that username and use and abuse it.
We would do that for any organization on the left or the center or the right. They’re thinking about coming onto Parler, and they’re worried about maybe somebody else absconding with their username. We’re gonna reserve that name for them, because we absolutely want them here. We want their point of view represented here on Parler.
Mr. Jekielek: Mark, any final thoughts before we finish up?
Mr. Meckler: Yes, in closing, what I want people to understand is that this is, in my opinion, right now the most important fight in America. Free speech is at the root of our American system. We believe that more speech is better speech. If there’s bad speech, and there’s plenty of bad speech out there, that should be countered with more speech and better speech.
Today, we live in a universe where the online speech is getting more and more limited. If we allow that to happen, if we allow viewpoint diversity to be shut down, I believe we’re going to lose the Republic. This is the home of free speech in the world. If we lose it here in the United States, we’re likely to lose it worldwide. So I would encourage everybody who’s interested in free speech and viewpoint diversity, to get involved by coming to Parler.com. If you don’t already have an account, wait until next week, and sign up for an account. If you have a Parler account and you haven’t come back, come back to Parler.com and get involved today.
Mr. Jekielek: Mark Meckler, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Meckler: Thanks for having me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.