The “free speech” social media platform Parler was abruptly taken offline following its Friday acquisition by digital media conglomerate Starboard. The new owner, formerly Olympic Media, told Decrypt that the service has great potential—both financially, and as a community.
“Parler has assets that represent an enormous opportunity from both the value perspective financially, but also as a community of people that use it,” Starboard CEO Ryan Coyne said. “There’s a ton of value to those users.”
Those users were largely drawn to Parler’s pitch as being less aggressively moderated than Facebook or Twitter, and thus more friendly to conservative and right-wing perspectives. That lax moderation threatened Parler’s distribution and operations, however, particularly after the the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. where groups utilized the app for organizing the attack.
Amazon’s AWS, Google’s Play app store, and the Apple App Store all threatened to halt distribution of the app. Parler remained online after announcing changes to its moderation policies, which the company said was enforced through the use of artificial intelligence.
Parler and its parent company, Parlement Technologies, was founded in 2018. Starboard was founded that same year, and describes itself as a digital media conglomerate based in Arlington, Virginia. Its other properties include conservative-friendly platforms American Wire and BizPac Review.
Coyne describes his firm’s priorities as advertising, fundraising, publishing, and consumer brands.
Parler had been in limbo since last year, when Parlement Technologies said in October that controversial entertainer Kayne West had agreed “in principle” to purchase the right-leaning social media platform. The deal was short-lived, and by December, Parlement Technologies said the agreement had been terminated.
In December, Parler waded into Web3 by launching a collection of NFTs featuring former U.S. President Donald Trump.
In the meantime, Parlement announced that it had raised $16 million in Series B funding and acquired private cloud company Dynascale Inc., describing its goal as “building the world’s premier free speech technology infrastructure and platform.”
Coyne said he was made aware of Parlement Technologies’ desire to sell the social media platform and its data while keeping the cloud hosting infrastructure it had built. While he did not provide details of the purchase, Coyne told Decrypt that he had been in talks with Parler CEO George Farmer about taking over the platform for several weeks.
“When George decided to offload part of the business to streamline Parler as a cloud hosting business, we talked for about a month, discussing monetization strategies and ways to improve efficiency,” Coyne said. “Eventually, I became confident in deriving strong value from the platform.”
With the acquisition, Conya said the plan is to move Parler away from a single political ideology to bring in a larger user base while still adhering to free speech principles, acknowledging that Parler’s current model as a Twitter clone for conservatives is not viable.
“There’s a number of communities out there that would benefit from being on a platform that is more celebratory of free speech,” Conye said. “And so, while I acknowledge that Parler historically has been associated with conservatism, moving forward, it is not going to be a platform just for any one political ideology.”
After the acquisition, Parler was shut down to “undergo a strategic assessment.” Coyne could not say how long the platform would be offline.
“I would love to set a 90-day timeline, but the truth is that the relaunch will be dictated by the value it can deliver to end users,” Conye said. “We won’t bring it back until it attracts content creators and consumers at a significantly higher level than competitors, and it must have a sustainable business model.”