Congress asked the FBI to investigate the app’s role in promoting ‘civil unrest’ in the U.S. — but the entire social media ecosystem demands scrutiny

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Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The House Oversight and Reform Committee chair demanded on Thursday that the FBI “conduct a robust examination” of Parler and its alleged role in the Capitol riots on January 6, which resulted in the deaths of five individuals and for which hundreds of people are being investigated by the Justice Department.

In a letter to FBI director Christopher Wray published by the Washington Post, the committee’s chairwoman and New York Representative Carolyn Maloney asked the agency to consider Parler as “a potential facilitator of planning and incitement related to the violence, as a repository of key evidence posted by users on its site, and as a potential conduit for foreign governments who may be financing civil unrest in the United States.” …

‘Have you tried to moderate 15 million people?’ MeWe founder Mark Weinstein told OneZero

A photo illustration of the home page of the social media application MeWe displayed on the screen of an iPhone.
A photo illustration of the home page of the social media application MeWe displayed on the screen of an iPhone.
Photo illustration: Chesnot/Getty Images

“I’m an American who is sick and tired of you traitors,” an account going by the name Chuck Testa posted on MeWe, an alternative social network popular with far-right extremists, two days after the Capitol riots. “Did you think we weren’t going to fight back… There is no place for you. You must be purged,” they continued, writing in the chatroom for a Stop the Steal group of more than 2,700 members. Testa’s proposed solution to the nonbelievers? A “firing squad.”

Across MeWe, movements such as Stop the Steal and QAnon, along with right-wing militia groups, have taken root as mainstream sites like Facebook and Twitter make sweeping gestures, arguably too late, to rid their own platforms of rampant abuse. OneZero observed dozens of posts endorsing or encouraging a violent response to post-election events on the platform over the past two months. And in messages posted to Parler, Telegram, as well as Facebook and Twitter, which have deplatformed some far-right communities in recent months, MeWe has been actively endorsed by some Trump supporters claiming that they’re victims of “censorship.” …

’Guaranteed not a hack’

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Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Before Parler went offline Monday morning, a hacker reportedly downloaded all the data that users had shared to the platform, including images, video, and deleted posts mentioning the assault on the Capitol last week, Motherboard reported.

Now, some Trump supporters who have fled to MeWe and Telegram are insisting the hack is “fake news,” and are baselessly claiming it was coordinated by Twitter and Amazon Web Services to dissuade people from using Parler, in the event that it returns. …

The service is now shut down as it seeks a new hosting service

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Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

App downloads of “free speech” platforms Parler and MeWe jumped in the days following riots at the Capitol on Wednesday and the subsequent permanent suspension of President Donald Trump’s Twitter account. Before Parler’s removal from the App Store and Google Play on Friday, the platform gained tens of thousands of downloads in the United States alone.

According to daily download data from Apptopia, which tracks mobile app trends, Parler was downloaded roughly 16,600 times in the U.S. last Wednesday, 14,300 times on Thursday, and approximately 94,700 times on Friday, up until its removal from app stores.

MeWe, which functions similarly to Facebook, saw roughly 9,200 U.S. downloads on Wednesday, approximately 13,800 on Thursday, and more than 34,000 downloads on Friday, January 8. …

‘This is Gab’s moment’

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Photo Illustration: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Twitter permanently suspended President Donald Trump’s personal account Friday evening, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence” posed by his tweets in the context of ongoing unrest and violence in Washington, D.C. The president’s removal from his favorite platform created a vacuum for alternative Twitter sites Parler and Gab, both of which have courted Trump in the past.

Shortly after Trump’s ban from Twitter, both Parler and Gab experienced technical issues, likely from the number of users attempting to access their platforms. Parler users encountered a “networking error” on their home feeds.

On Thursday, Gab CEO Andrew Torba issued a statement that “I am in the process of connecting with President Trump’s team as we speak. The president’s Gab account is already reserved with hundreds of thousands of followers.” …

Three of Trump’s tweets pushing the baseless conspiracy theory that the election was stolen were also removed

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Photo Illustration: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Twitter said it has locked President Donald Trump’s account for 12 hours and threatened it with permanent suspension on Wednesday night, shortly after a mob of his followers broke into the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Earlier in the day, President Trump sent a number of tweets supporting the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen and encouraging his followers in their insurrection at the Capitol, where a woman was fatally shot.

“As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrump Tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy,” Twitter said via its Twitter Safety account. …

Dozens of other members of the group baselessly claimed that Trump supporters at the Capitol were antifa

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Photo by Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images

As thousands of President Donald Trump supporters descended on Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, hundreds of them breaking through barriers and into the Capitol building, far-right Facebook groups exploded in outright calls for violence against Democratic lawmakers and over the counting of electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden.

“Burn the chambers!” one member of a private Stop the Steal Facebook group wrote on Wednesday.

“I hope all the dems suffer!!! Hope you get what you deserve!!!” wrote another person in the group, which has more than 16,000 members. “Trump will pardon all the patriots [sic],” a third person responded.

For months, Trump supporters have been coordinating protests over the presidential election results on social media platforms. In November, Facebook removed several large Stop the Steal groups for undermining civic processes and potentially inciting physical violence. However, despite the direct relationship between far-right groups and on-the-ground events, Facebook has allowed some Stop the Steal communities to continue existing on its platform. Some of these have grown in size exponentially. …

Internet Happy Places

At the end of a year in which we could not explore much IRL, team OneZero is sharing our favorite places we found online.

A Redditor posts an image of what appear to be grains of rice, small and yellowing and strewn across a plain white bedspread. “These things keep popping up on my bed every day,” they remark. “I wake up every morning or come home at night after work with these little grain like things in my bed. I wipe them off and more show up the next day. My kitten sleeps with me,” they add.

Within hours, someone replies: “They look like tapeworm segments falling out of its [sic] bum. Those segments are the worm laying eggs.” …

This year, the plight of gig drivers went mainstream

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Uber drivers protest Proposition 22 in a caravan in front of City Hall in Los Angeles on October 22, 2020 Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

In early March, a sick man tumbled into the car of a San Francisco Uber driver, asking to be taken to the nearest hospital. “I think I’ve got Covid-19,” the passenger said before coughing up blood in the back seat. It wasn’t long before the driver became ill himself, he told OneZero in March. He was tested for the coronavirus, and doctors prescribed a rescue inhaler along with instructions to self-quarantine. But as he awaited the results, the driver worried over days of lost income and how to make ends meet.

Throughout the shutdown, thousands of Uber drivers and other gig workers have been thrust onto the front lines of the pandemic. They’ve delivered necessary supplies, warm meals, and rides to and from the doctor’s office. These individuals are unquestionably essential. Yet, as independent contractors, they are among the nation’s least-protected workers, lacking employer-paid benefits such as health care and sick leave, while being expected to endure an unprecedented crisis. …

One mother asked whether a snakebite kit could be used to remove the vaccine from the body

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Photo: Scott Eisen/Stringer/Getty Images

On Monday, a member of an anti-vax Facebook group with 13,000 participants shared a video by the World Doctors Alliance, a controversial group of health professionals that pushes conspiracy theories and vaccine misinformation and has falsely denied the existence of a pandemic. At one point in the video, a man identifying as a medical doctor and homeopath in Belgium said, “There are strong indications it could make you a controllable puppet,” referring to newly developed Covid-19 vaccines.

His false claim asserts that lipid nanoparticles in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine contain tiny robots that “might possibly change your DNA.” This discredited conspiracy theory has been floating around Facebook since November and is one of many hoaxes propagated by members of the private Facebook group, which was created in 2016 and describes itself as “opposed to deadly vaccinations.” It and other Facebook groups OneZero identified have been incubating dangerous medical misinformation for years and continue to promote anti-vax beliefs on the platform as the United States begins its monumental Covid-19 vaccination rollout. …


Sarah Emerson

Staff Writer, OneZero at Medium

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