Study: Parler users were more likely veterans or in military

App seen as conservative alternative to Twitter has gone dark in aftermath of Capitol riot

Parler app downloads increased in the days after the attack on the Capitol. But Google and Apple banned the app from their stores soon after.  (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Parler app downloads increased in the days after the attack on the Capitol. But Google and Apple banned the app from their stores soon after. (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Posted January 19, 2021 at 6:00am

The now-silenced Parler app that appeared to have played a key role in mobilizing the Trump-inspired mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 had a greater share of users who are either veterans or in the U.S. military compared with other social media platforms. 

Parler also drew more users from states in the South and in the Mountain West — tracking closely with pro-Trump Republican voters in those states — than from other parts of the country. The findings come from research by Disqo, a company based in Glendale, California, that signs up volunteers from among users of social media platforms who allow their online presence to be tracked. 

While the overall number of military personnel and veterans on social media sites is small compared with the platforms’ user base, on Parler there was a greater chance of picking a member at random and finding that person to have a military background, said Anne Hunter, vice president of product marketing at Disqo. 

That was also because the platform had a larger concentration of Republican voters who tend to be overrepresented among military personnel, Hunter said. 

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The study also found that Parler attracted users from states in the South, which made up 39 percent of the platform’s users, compared with users from New England states, which made up only 15 percent of its users. 

Parler had a “very high utilization in Wyoming, which was significantly higher than anywhere else” adjusting for the state’s population, Hunter said. In a mostly rural state that’s sparsely populated, it’s likely that a social media app that appeals to conservative voters may “provide a way for people to connect, and spread, because of the network effect,” Hunter said. 

Disqo has a sample of about 30,000 social media users, the company said. The Parler findings were drawn from a subset of about 755 users of the platform, according to the company.

Origins during first impeachment

Parler, launched in 2018, branded itself as a conservative alternative to Twitter and offered little to no moderation of its users’ content. It began attracting users during President Donald Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 when several Republicans, including lawmakers alleging that impeachment was a hoax, began signing up on Parler. 

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., was among members of Congress who said they were switching to Parler from Twitter. 

Trump fueled his supporters’ anger by posting, on average, 40 tweets a day slamming Democrats after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House impeachment proceedings in September 2019. 

After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Twitter first temporarily suspended Trump’s account for inciting violence, but when his subsequent tweets showed no signs of remorse, the company permanently banned him on Jan. 8. Facebook did the same. 

Soon after Trump was knocked off Twitter and Facebook, Parler’s user base grew by as much as 175 percent between Jan. 8 and Jan. 10, Disqo found. By then Parler became the most downloaded app on Apple and Google platforms. 

Sensor Tower, a company that tracks app downloads on mobile phones, found that on Jan. 8, Parler downloads had increased 280 percent on Apple iPhones and 355 percent on Google Android phones.

But the surge in users was short-lived. 

Hammer comes down

Alarmed by the unmoderated content, calls for violence and naked racism on Parler, all major tech companies cracked down on the app. Apple and Google banned the app from their stores. Amazon, which hosted the app on its cloud servers, completely shut down the app on Jan.10. By then, Parler may have had about 12 million users. Twitter, by comparison, has about 330 million active monthly users. 

As soon as Parler was shut down, its users began seeking other social media outlets, Hunter said. 

Forty-two percent of Parler users have used other social media platforms since the shutdown, including Facebook and Twitter, she said. 

The overlap between Parler and other social media platforms is the highest on Facebook, with as many as 71 percent of Parler users also using Facebook, Disqo found. Forty-seven percent of Parler users also use Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, and 37 percent use Twitter, Disqo found. 

Parler users also are shifting to other niche social media sites including MeWe, Gab and Rumble, many of them offering themselves as conservative-friendly apps. 

MeWe, launched in 2016, has claimed that it has added 400,000 new users since Parler was taken down, according to a report in Fortune. The site now claims as many as 14 million users, Fortune said. 

Fortune reported Jan. 11 that MeWe was drawing white supremacy groups urging its followers to be “armed and ready.” The magazine said MeWe removed a group called Patriots Unleashed from the platform after the story was published. 

Disqo found that 54 percent of MeWe users also used Parler and 48 percent of Gab users were on Parler.