Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Come Into My Parler

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Frank Murtaugh is managing editor of Memphis magazine, but he's also been the primary sports columnist for the Flyer since 2001 or so. He writes a lot about University of Memphis sports and he does a terrific job. And it hasn't always been easy. Frank's seen some mighty lean years, especially in football, including the woeful Coach Larry Porter era.

Each week during the season, Frank writes a column called "Three Thoughts on Tiger Football." Back in the Porter days, I used to tweet about Frank's "Three Thoughts" column by saying "Frank Murtaugh thinks about Tiger football so you don't have to."

I write all this by way of saying we owe a similar debt to sfgate.com writer Bryan C. Parker, who did us all a solid by signing up for parler.com — so we don't have to.

BRYAN C. PARKER
  • Bryan C. Parker

Parler, as you probably know by now, is a social media platform aimed at "conservatives" who are disenchanted with Facebook and Twitter. Here's what Parker wrote: "Beneath the thin guise of the app's self-proclaimed emphasis on 'free speech' lies the ability to say not just a hypothetical 'anything,' but specifically to share racist slurs and violent threats toward political opponents. On Parler, Nazi imagery flourishes, death threats abound, and conspiracy theories reign."

To sign up for Parler, you must provide a phone number and email address. The platform claims it will not "sell" your information, but it will doubtless be used for something. Parler is funded largely by the Robert Mercer family, which has made millions on data mining. The app also has ties to Cambridge Analytica, which provided extensive voter micro-data to the 2016 Trump campaign.

Once you're in, Parker reports, you are given a suggested follow list of right-leaning media and political figures: Sean Hannity, Ted Cruz, Dinesh D'Souza, Ann Coulter, Devin Nunes, etc. Beyond that, you're on your own. You can post, follow people, start conversation threads, the usual social media protocol.

It quickly becomes apparent, writes Parker, that hardly anybody on Parler thinks Joe Biden won the election. Profane diatribes, wild election conspiracy theories, QAnon revelations, and racial and homophobic slurs abound.

Free speech in the United States has famously been ruled not to extend to the right to yell "FIRE" in a crowded theater. Does it extend to the right to call for executions of political enemies, to promote anti-Semitism and racism, to proudly post the Nazi swastika? On Parler, yes, it does. This is the free speech that Parler says is being suppressed and banned on Twitter and Facebook.

Parler is the newest addition to the right-wing media silo. Fox is on the decline with the true Trumper/white supremacist/racist/AngryKaren tribe. OANN, NewsMax, The Right Scoop, and others are the primary "news" sources cited on Parler. If you haven't checked out OANN, let me just say, it makes Fox News look like NPR.

I remember when the FCC had a "fairness doctrine" that required TV and radio stations holding broadcast licenses to devote some of their programming to controversial issues of public importance and to allow the airing of opposing views on those issues. This meant that programs on politics were required to include opposing opinions on the topic under discussion. The rule also mandated that broadcasters alert anyone subject to a personal attack in their programming and give them a chance to respond. The doctrine was revoked in 1987, and its elimination was widely credited with sparking the rise of conservative talk radio, including Rush Limbaugh.

Giving equal time to both sides seems like such a quaint concept now. You don't need a license from the federal government to start a website, and so here we are, with an online world where anything goes: from cute kittens to porn to racism to the most depraved corners of the human psyche, where the entire longitude and latitude of humanity can find a home — and validation for just about anything.

What to do? Few of us, liberal or conservative, want the federal government to regulate online content. Imagine what Trump could have done with such a power! But surely there are ways we can monitor and clamp down on violent threats, terrorism, and human depravity. Violent words can lead to violent deeds, as we've so often discovered.

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