Digital media conglomerate Starboard announced on Friday that it had acquired Parler, the social media platform that had become popular with conservatives after former President Donald Trump was expelled from Twitter and Facebook following the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol Building.
However, the service had largely failed to reach the same level of popularity as Twitter, which it largely replicated. Matters weren’t made better after Trump launched his own Twitter rival, Truth Social, last year. Starboard, formerly Olympic Media, replaced all of Parler’s functionality on Friday with a just single page that announced that changes are coming.
“No reasonable person believes that a Twitter clone just for conservatives is a viable business any more. By refocusing on the cloud and IT infrastructure space George Farmer has done an exceptional job at successfully leading Parlement into a critically important industry where it has already begun to excel,” Starboard announced.
“Starboard is the perfect home for the Parler brand and its longtime loyal users,” it added.
The new owners further explained that the Parler app will be pulled down to undergo a strategic assessment. When it returns, it seeks to serve what it said are marginalized or even outright censored communities – even extending beyond domestic politics.
“From a technology perspective Parler was built to provide individuals with the opportunity to speak freely,” Ryan Coyne, CEO of Starboard, told this reporter via an email.
“That mission and the use case of the technology will remain intact moving forward,” Ryan added. “Advancements in AI technology, along with the existing code base and other new features, provide an opportunity for Starboard to begin servicing unsupported online communities – building a home for them away from the ad-hoc regulatory hand of platforms that hate them.”
When questioned about the changes to layout and functionality that could be coming, Ryan further explained, “Starboard will work to engage the existing community across different platforms.”
Finding An Audience
This move isn’t exactly unexpected. As noted, Truth Social attempted to fill a void for conservatives that felt driven away from Twitter. Yet, after tech entrepreneur Elon Musk acquired the company last year, many returned to the platform. Now the micro-blogging broadcast space seems more fragmented than ever – with no shortage of Twitter alternatives attempting to court different communities.
It may still be hard for Parler to find its place, however.
The first question to ask speaks to who it could target – but also what is meant by a marginalized community?
“It’s fairly uncertain what the new owners have in mind,” said Dr. Cliff Lampe, professor of information and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Information at the University of Michigan.
“Marginalized communities have plenty of other options to talk amongst themselves, depending on the level of ‘marginalization’ they face,” said Lampe. “I put that in quotes because of course some people are marginalized because they are engaged in illegal or non-normative activities – like pedophilia or gang membership. Some are marginalized for identity characteristics that are less non-normative but still under stress from a dominant majority.”
The second, and perhaps even more pressing question is what Starboard could do differently to stand out in the increasingly crowded market.
“It’s unclear what Parler’s competitive advantage would be over sites like Reddit, Gab, Signal, Telegram, 4chan, or the dozens of other online spaces where people can gather with varying levels of anonymity and encryption,” added Lampe. “Also given its association with the January 6 attacks, it seems like the brand would attract only right-aligned marginalized groups.”
Perhaps that is why Starboard has pulled down the platofrm entirely, and could look for a fresh start later this year. Until then we’ll have to wait for the ink to dry and the deal to be closed before Parler is back open for business again.