I’ve spent the last couple of weeks on Parler, lurking, while simultaneously researching QANON and other far right and extremist theories. Here’s what I’ve found out about Parler (buckle up, this is gonna be long and bumpy):
First, what the fuck is Parler? I assume most of you reading know what it is by now, but just in case you don’t, it’s a social media platform that was created by John Matze. According to Fox Business (2020), Matze graduated from the University of Denver in 2014 and created Parler, “after being exhausted with a lack of transparency in big tech, ideological suppression and privacy abuse.”
(Aaaaangry white guy alert.)
It’s also pretty rich coming from the creator of a site that requires a personal cell phone number to even register an account.
Anyway, having never heard of Parler until Joe Biden became President-Elect and conservatives began having a collective meltdown and pledged to leave Facebook for this hip, new place where you could be as racist and antisemitic and fear-mongering as you wanted with absolutely no consequences, I was surprised to see that the platform itself was more than 2 years old.
Parler is touted as being one of the last bastions of hope for “free speech” on the Internet, but that free speech is protected only if you aren’t a damn liberal. Plenty of former Parler users report being booted for, you know, speaking freely.
So, I knew right away that if I was going to join Parler, I’d have to pose as one of them, which is exactly what I did.
Aaaaand it’s pretty much what you’d expect. It’s like if your racist Uncle Bobby Ray cloned himself for the family Thanksgiving dinner and every single one of his clones started talking at once—just an amped up Twitter for hardcore Stop The Steal conservatives to gather and share conservative conspiracy theories and news articles.
But what’s startling is just how MANY news outlets there seem to be for this kind of thing. Typically, we think of the “big” ones, starting with the more middle-of-the-road Fox News (yeah, they’re middle-of-the-road comparatively) to Breitbart to The Blaze to the National Review to OAN to NewsMax, but the reality is that there are far, far more, and the deeper you go, the darker and more problematic the information that is being shared becomes. The People of Parler, as I’ve begun referring to them, don’t seem to discriminate between any of these news sources and share them arbitrarily among themselves. And why wouldn’t they? That’s specifically what this social media outlet is for. You don’t see it nearly as much on Twitter or Facebook, because these platforms are a melting pot of ideologies. Quite a bit gets lost in the mix, and both Twitter and Facebook have, at least recently, begun tagging or banning false news, especially in regard to Stop The Steal and the 2020 Presidential Election.
On Parler, this is not the case.
Perhaps what I find the most disturbing about Parler (there are lots of things, but we don’t have time for all of that) is the sheer volume of conservative politicians, figureheads, news anchors, or simply conservative “famous” people who are using the platform to disseminate propaganda and outright lies to their large (and growing every day) following. Much of the information shared has no basis in reality, and in fact, can be easily disputed by simply doing the bare minimum of a Google search.
One such article from a website not even trying to hide their partisanship and aptly named We Love Donald Trump (dot com) is titled, “Rumors Fly That Server Seized In Raid Shows Trump Actually Got 410 Electoral Votes; Media Panics” and shows a picture of an electoral map with every state in red (even California) except for 12. The story goes on to suggest that this map was created to show what the results of the United States Presidential Election really looks like, according to a server that was “allegedly” seized in a raid overseas in Germany earlier this week.
There is, however, no evidence cited in the article, unless you count a bunch of Twitter accounts sharing screenshots of conservative news media outlets reporting the information as well as the map, which also has no source. Literally anyone could have created the map. In other words, there is no hard evidence, no original source. The reason there is no original source is because this is a conspiracy theory about a raid (that literally never happened) in Frankfurt, Germany, where this company doesn’t even have any offices. The article is quick to dismiss this reality check, though, by stating that networks like CNN have jumped into “damage control” mode by claiming the that the raid never happened…because it didn’t.
The company that was supposedly raided is called Scytl and they have also reported that the raid never happened and that they are especially certain, because they don’t have any offices in Frankfurt and have only ever had temporary backup servers there, which are no longer in use, and haven’t been in use for more than a year (servers that are not connected in any way to any work they’ve done in the United States). They also confirm that while they have clients in the United States, and they provide election night reporting, poll worker management, online election worker training, online voter education, and electronic pollbook and ballot delivery (a fact I discovered while perusing their website), they do not provide voting machines for US Elections and therefore would not tabulate any actual votes in the US.
So, in order to believe the claim We Love Donald Trump (dot com) and others are promoting, you’d have to believe, at a bare minimum, that this is a multinational conspiracy to rig the election in Biden’s favor (and if you’re on Parler, this wouldn’t be a hard sell). You’d also have to believe that Scytl, a private company, is also involved or being forced to lie to the public, and that they actually do provide voting machines for the Presidential election in the United States, a fact which is apparently being kept secret, because according the U.S. Assistance Election Commission’s website, Scytl isn’t listed as a certified company for voting systems in presidential elections, and in fact, is not listed anywhere on the website (yes, I checked myself, and you can, too, in the list of references at the bottom of this post).
Furthermore, you’d also need to believe that Scytl itself isn’t the only company in on the rigging of the election, due to the widespread (and false) claim that Dominion voting systems are also not secure (they ARE certified by the USAEC).
But where did this information about Scytl and their alleged role in the 2020 Presidential Election originate?
Naturally, internet conspiracy theorists aren’t typically forthcoming with their sources, which means I had to do some investigative research to figure out when/where this information was first reported. The earliest reporting about this fake raid is from a website called Great Game India (dot com), a website that appears to be absolutely devoted to wild conspiracy theories, is on November 14th, but the earliest they started reporting on this purported election fraud involving Scytl was on November 13th, just a few days after several articles suggesting Dominion voting machines were the real culprit in election fraud.
Now, it’s possible that GGI got its information from the depths of one of the many QANON and Deep State message boards on the Internet (think 4Chan), which I’ll discuss in a later post. I don’t have the wherewithal to go wade into that shallow gene pool, as I’m saving my energy for the deep dive into the history of QANON. So, while it’s possible (and probable) that this theory was born via message board, the earliest reporting I’ve found is a report from GGI that is 24 hours apart from the report of the fake raid.
Additionally, the article asserts the involvement of Scytl, a company they say is now bankrupt (and to be fair, this is true) was involved in the 2020 election, when the information they provide is not only information from the 2016 election (which they of course don’t mention) but also that the services are the same services that I’ve already mentioned, which have nothing to do with providing ballot machines or counting votes. Of course, if you don’t know any of that, because you haven’t bothered to research further, you might believe the bullshit. Scytl, for its part, provides this information clearly on their website.
Of course, if GGI admitted that Scytl had anything at all to do with the 2016 election, an election in which (as we allllll know) Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States, it would almost certainly make them look like they either didn’t care about possible election fraud during that election cycle OR that they’re lying about possible election fraud now. This omission is especially important, because the writers at GGI included an exhaustive list of elections where they claim Scytl has a history of voter fraud, while conveniently leaving out Scytl’s involvement in 2016 in the US.
So, what is it, my dudes? Does Scytl have a history of hijacking Democratic elections as you claim, with the exception of the Trump/Clinton election, or are you making a concerted effort to do a little hijacking of your own by stretching the truth so far that not even Tiger Balm could cure those stretch marks?
Great Game India seems to pride itself on “exposing” information and then taking credit when the story is picked up or is further “exposed.” GGI’s source, it appears, for the fake raid story is simply, “A US Intelligence Official” which is a common moniker for keyboard conspiracy theorists on Deep State and QANON message boards. But, hey—credit where credit is due: this is particularly smart, because if you question the validity of the information, all anyone has to do is say that this official cannot reveal themselves or that the person reporting the supposed leaked information cannot reveal their source. That way, the source stays vague and secret, and it is impossible to delegitimize.
Admittedly, I felt quite a bit of satisfaction after spending the better part of today debunking this ridiculous story. However, the reality is that the feeling I was left with was one of sheer exhaustion, and that’s not because I ran a marathon on the Internet. It’s because stories like this exist by the hundreds of thousands, they’re shared and reshared by the millions, and there is simply not enough time in the day, not enough people, to go around debunking each and every one of them. Furthermore, while I love a good conspiracy theory just as much as anyone, and political conspiracy theories far predate the candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump, the fact of the matter is that conspiracy theories like this one serve to do nothing more than corrode the infrastructure of Democracy, and the corrosion is coming at us faster and faster, because these theories have broken away from the darkest corners of the web and are now being touted not only by our friends and family members, but also by some of the most high ranking officials in our government.
What this means is that conspiracy theories like this one will continue to clog the waterways of truth, and lots of people are going to drown along the way. Lots of people are going to believe this shit, maybe because they want to, maybe because they don’t have the tools or critical thinking skills to find the answers for themselves. Just as many people, when presented with the evidence that the conspiracy theory they believe that week is categorically false, will simply refuse to believe that evidence. They will scream about the liberal media. They will claim opinion as fact, and they will slither back into places like Parler where they will be welcomed with opened arms and closed minds.
Tiny Blue Dot
NOTE: Sources are cited below, because I’m a nerd and also because source citation fucking matters.
N. (2020, November 17). Rumors Fly That Server Seized In Raid Shows Trump Actually Got 410 Electoral Votes; Media Panics. Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://welovetrump.com/2020/11/17/rumors-fly-that-server-seized-in-raid-shows-trump-actually-got-410-electoral-votes-media-panics/
CERTIFIED VOTING SYSTEMS. (2020). Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://www.eac.gov/voting-equipment/certified-voting-systems
Fordham, E. (2020). Who is Parler CEO John Matze? Alternative social media site Parler seems to have sprung up overnight. Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/john-matze-parler-ceo-founder-twitter
INTEL: US Military Raided Scytl Servers In Germany For Evidence After Vote Switching Scandal. (2020, November 14). Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://greatgameindia.com/us-military-raided-scytl-germany/
Scytl: We Power Democracy. (2020). Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://www.scytl.com/en/
Why 2020 US Election Votes Were Counted By A Bankrupted Spanish Company Scytl. (2020, November 13). Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://greatgameindia.com/us-election-bankrupted-spanish-scytl/