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Parler CEO says he was fired for wanting to crack down on QAnon and hate speech

Updated Jan 11th, 2023 12:15PM EST
Parler app
Image: ltyuan/Adobe

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  • The CEO of the controversial Parler app that was de-platformed last month following the January 6 riots at the US Capitol has been fired, and he’s speaking out about why.
  • Parler CEO John Matze said he thinks it was because of a difference in political philosophy with Parler investor and GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer.
  • Matze said he’d wanted to implement stronger content moderation on the app, and he thinks that’s why he was fired.

The bad news keeps piling up for the Parler app, a kind of digital safe space for the far right that found itself under fire and ultimately kicked off the Apple and Google app stores for hosting violent content surrounding the January 6 riots at the US Capitol complex.

The app — which had played host to everything from QAnon supporters to conspiracy theorists on the fringes of the Trump orbit — got itself essentially canceled from the Internet about a month ago now. And the CEO, in turn, found himself canceled as the service’s chief executive, thanks to a late January decision by the Parler board of directors.

In pretty rapid succession, Apple, Google, and Amazon removed their support for Parler’s app in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, which quickly meant that Parler was inaccessible on iPhones, Android devices, as well as the web. An email from Amazon Web Services’ Trust and Safety team to Parler laid out why it was pulling the plug: “Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms. It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.”

At the time, Parler CEO John Matze — a former Amazon Web Services software developer, himself — was telling news outlets at least at first that the team behind the app would try to rebuild things and relaunch, presumably with more moderation and safety protocols in place. Needless to say, that’s much easier said than done. Fast forward to this week, however, with Matze now saying that he’s been fired from the controversial app, and he thinks it’s because he’d planned to start implementing a system to identify and ban users such as QAnon devotees, domestic terrorists, proponents of hate speech, and the like.

“I’ve always been about free speech and everyone being welcome,” Matze told The New York Times in a new interview. “I’ve never been about conservative political activism.” It was for that reason, that difference in philosophy with GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer who’s one of Parler’s investors, that he says he was fired.

“I got dead silence as a response, and I took that dead silence as disagreement,” Matze said.

Parler chief policy officer Amy Peikoff, meanwhile, shared this statement by way of disputing Matze’s characterization of the situation:

“Mr. Matze’s characterizations of the events and circumstances surrounding his termination from the Parler CEO position have been inaccurate and misleading. The owners and managers of the company worked tirelessly to build a resilient, nonpartisan platform dedicated to freedom of expression, civil discourse and user privacy.”

Along those same lines, another Parler investor (and right-wing media personality) Dan Bongino posted a video to Facebook in which he seemed to blame everything that happened to Parler on Matze, and not on things like the posts from users calling for the murder of Mike Pence, among other extremes. “We could have been (back) up in a week if we just would have been the knee,” Bongino said in the video, adding that Patze had made “really bad decisions.”

Continued Bongino: “The vision of the company as a free-speech site and a stable product, immune and hardened to cancel culture, was ours … John decided to make this public, not us.”

Meantime, in an unrelated bit of Parler news that also involves President Trump, it was reported on Friday that the Trump Organization negotiating on behalf of the president tried to reach a deal (while he was still in office) that would have made Parler Trump’s primary social network. Thanks to reporting from BuzzFeed News, however, we know that not only was this deal considered and never disclosed until now — Trump’s reps also sought to obtain an ownership stake in the social network.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.