During Apple’s virtual annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday, a shareholder pushed Apple CEO Tim Cook on the company’s ban of Parler from its App Store after the free-speech platform was re-launched last week. Yet Cook did not indicate that Apple will reinstate Parler.
“Now that Parler is back online with increased safeguards, when will it be allowed back on the App Store? It was one of the most downloaded apps in 2020 and reached No. 1 in January,” the director of the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research, Justin Danhof, said to Cook. “And while I disagree with its actions, Facebook’s recent removal of massive amounts of content — largely conservative voices — means that it trafficked for years in what the left calls ‘hate speech.’ Why was it never removed from the App Store?”
Nearly a month ago, Google, Apple, and Amazon coordinated to deplatform Parler, claiming it turned a blind eye to those planning for the U.S. Capitol breach on Jan. 6. This move played into the hands of censorious Facebook and Twitter, which benefited in monopoly power from Parler’s removal.
“These events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate and don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,” Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, claimed after the riot. This narrative has been proven false, as court documents show Facebook and Twitter were instead hotbeds of extremist organizing.
The Department of Justice conducted an investigation and found that of the 223 individuals charged in connection with the riot who threatened violence online, 73 did so on Facebook. Comparatively, 24 references were on YouTube, 20 on Facebook-owned Instagram, and — get ready for it — only eight on Parler. The majority of people found live-streaming at the riot were on Facebook, and hashtag #StopTheSteal was reposted 128,000 times on Facebook, according to the Coalition for a Safer Web.
It is certainly necessary to condemn any calls for violence on any platform, but it would be false and foolish to believe Parler had the same effect on the Capitol riot that Facebook and other Big Tech giants did.
“Cook argued in his presentation that Apple does not have market power in any area. But its App Store model is one that has absolute power over what owners of Apple products can access, and it certainly has market power when it combines with other Big Tech companies. The risk of antitrust enforcement and additional regulation and legislation at the state level and in future administrations grows with every abuse of market power,” said Scott Shepard, deputy director of the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Shepard also attended the shareholder meeting.
Cook reportedly ignored Danhof’s questions concerning its censorship of Parler, but Danhof flipped the conversation, likening Apple’s deplatforming of conservatives in America to its censorship of Hong Kongers fighting for freedom against the Chinese Communist Party’s totalitarian repression.
“Do you know what other voices Apple has silenced? Those of the Hong Kong freedom-fighters. At the height of the Hong Kong protests, Apple removed an app that the freedom-fighters were using to communicate. In America, Apple works to do the bidding of the political left. In China, it does the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party. In 2021, this is increasingly a distinction without a difference,” Danhof told Cook.
While Big Tech puts the blame on Parler, they neglect their own failures. Rose City Antifa, a group heavily involved in the rioting and looting in Portland, Ore. last summer, still has its group page up on Facebook with more than 23,000 likes. Twitter has still taken no action after being contacted by Breitbart News about its failure to remove Antifa calls for violence on a shopping district in San Jose, California.
Jason Rantz, a Seattle-based journalist who has covered Antifa and Black Lives Matter riots, said in a Fox News column that he has been continually harassed and threatened on Twitter. “Activists monitor Twitter to see if anyone is in or around the Antifa marches, then relay intel to the mob via hashtags. The communication is not sophisticated. Nevertheless, it puts media members in danger and Twitter does virtually nothing to intervene,” Rantz wrote.
Apple continues to carry Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on its App Store, all of which have been platforms for Antifa and other groups’ broadcasting of violence.