Parler CEO John Matze

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If you want to know how many people work at Parler, the social network dedicated to free speech that’s currently enjoying a surge in popularity, don’t ask the company’s chief operating officer.

Jeffrey Wernick, who is also an investor in the company, told Insider he didn’t really know how many people the company employs, but guessed it was around 30 based on a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, which used aggregated LinkedIn data to make its estimate. 

“The exact head count, I don’t know,” Parler’s COO insisted in a lengthy, and at times testy, phone conversation with Business Insider on Tuesday. Wernick opened the call by shouting a litany of recriminations: He was upset by reporters’ efforts to learn more about Parler, and in particular, about its connection to the right wing of American politics. 

“You people at Business Insider are the worst,” Wernick yelled. 

Wernick, who said he invested in Parler because of its free-speech mission, was frustrated that his company was being painted as a right-wing platform by media outlets, including Business Insider, which has reported on Parler’s popularity with conservatives and extremists alike. “We’re not a right-wing conservative site,” he said. “We’re a public square.” 

Lately, that square has been crowded. Downloads of the Parler app have doubled in the last few weeks, with more than 3 million new downloads since Election Day, and on November 8, Parler claimed the top spot on Apple’s App Store charts. Luminaries of the of the right-wing firmament, including Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have urged their followers to escape the censorship of traditional platforms like Facebook and Twitter and to join them in the free speech utopia of Parler.

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A hodgepodge of extremists and social media pariahs, including the far-right militant group Proud Boys, white supremacists, and believers in the QAnon conspiracy theories, have also found safe harbor on Parler.

Parler’s founding principles of “constitutional free speech” mean it doesn’t have to wrestle with the thorny issues of content moderation that have plagued the mainstream social networks. But as the company has discovered in recent weeks, its newfound popularity means it’s not immune from some of the other problems and scrutiny that its larger rivals face. The influx of new users has strained the app’s technical capabilities, leading to some outages and performance woes. More importantly, questions about the app’s murky origins and financial backers have put the company on defense and no longer fully in control of setting its own agenda.

Until recently, said Wernick, “many people just didn’t even know we existed.”

Now, following a report that Parler was secretly bankrolled by conservative donor Rebekah Mercer, the story of how a startup with no Silicon Valley pedigree emerged as a fast-growing alternative to the internet giants has become a top question in the country’s culture wars. Despite Wernick’s assertions that Parler is not a home for the right wing, a close look at the company’s early days shows numerous seminal connections to prominent conservatives.

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Source:: Business Insider


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