- Since the election, millions of people have been joining alternative social media platforms like Parler that have much more lax content regulations than traditional sites.
- Last week, Parler was the most downloaded app on both Android and Apple devices, and the company’s user base more than doubled from 4.5 million to 10 million.
- Rumble, a platform that bills itself as an alternative to YouTube, has also seen a massive bump in new users, a fact that the company’s CEO credited in large part to recent traffic from Parler.
- Numerous big-name conservative influencers have been pushing their followers to join these platforms, arguing that mainstream companies like Twitter and Facebook censor their content.
- Critics say that the alternative sites are allowing misinformation, conspiracies, and hateful content to flourish, effectively creating a dangerous echo chamber where people only hear what they want.
Parler Sees Huge Boom
Millions of conservative social media users have been flocking to alternative platforms in the weeks following the election amid allegations of censorship on traditional sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have been cracking down on election misinformation.
The most significant example is Parler, a social media company founded in 2018 that markets itself as a “free speech” and unbiased alternative to Twitter and Facebook. Unlike those platforms, Parler leaves most moderation decisions up to individual users.
While it does have guidelines barring criminal activity, terrorism, child pornography, copyright violations, and fraud, the regulation of that content is done by volunteers called “community jurors,” not the platform itself.
The site, which is financially backed by a number of prominent conservative donors, has largely attracted a base of Trump supporters and right-wing users, and in the weeks since the election, the number of users has grown exponentially.
In fact, according to data from Google and other analytics firms, Parler was the most-downloaded app on both Android and Apple devices for the majority of last week, prompting the platform’s user base to more than double from 4.5 million to 10 million in that same time.
Conservative Voices Encourage Migration
Notably, Parler’s chief operating officer and co-founder Jeffrey Wernick claimed that this growth was not to due to “any one person or group, but rather to Parler’s efforts to earn our community’s trust, both by protecting their privacy, and being transparent about the way in which their content is handled on our platform.”
However, at the same time, others pointed to the fact that a number of major conservative influencers have recently encouraged their followers to switch over the platform, including the Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, who lashed out at Twitter after the company flagged an article she posted claiming Democrats were trying to steal the election.
“This is the same group who abused power in 2016,” she tweeted two days after the election. “I will be leaving soon and going to Parler. Please open an account on @parler right away.”
Conservative radio host Mark Levin also echoed that sentiment, and encouraged his 2.7 million Twitter followers to do the same.
“Hurry and follow me at Parler,” he tweeted. “I may not stay at Facebook or Twitter if they continue censoring me. And one day I’ll have left their platforms. Parler is a wonderful alternative and is growing, and we need you there ASAP. It believes in truly open speech.”
Rumble Sees Uptick in Users
Notably, the mass exodus to Parler has not just helped the platform itself grow, but other similar platforms as well.
For example, the video-sharing site Rumble, which bills itself as an alternative to YouTube, has also seen a major spike in new users, which the company’s Chief Executive Chris Pavlovski directly attributed to traffic from Parler.
“I can confirm for the 1st time ever, Parler is sending Rumble more referral traffic than Facebook/Twitter combined,” he tweeted. “Dependency on them is now a thing of the past Next up, Rumble will dethrone YouTube.”
Pavlovski also told The Washington Post that his company has seen a big uptick in users since Election Day and that he expects the company will end the month with 80 million unique users, which is up from 60 million in October and 40 million this summer.
Rumble has been around since 2013, much longer than Parler, but the fact that its base is expected to double from what it was this summer is still incredibly significant. Part of that big increase is also due to the fact that, like Parler, major conservative influencers have been encouraging their followers to go to Rumble.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), a major ally of President Donald Trump, has recently been pushing his supporters to use the site. Major creators have also said they will bring their content to the platform, including Charlie Kirk, the founder of conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, as well as conservative commentator and Parler investor Dan Bongino.
Also like Parler, Rumble has very lax moderation rules. While its terms of service prohibit videos that show the assembly of weapons as well as other obscene content like pornography, nudity, or child exploitation, the platform has taken a very hands-off approach when it comes to misinformation and false claims, even regarding the election and the coronavirus.
“We don’t get involved in scientific opinions; we don’t have the expertise to do that and we don’t want to do that,” Pavlovski told The Post.
Criticisms and Concerns
However, to that point, experts who study online misinformation have said that false claims that have been removed off other platforms are popping up on Parler. The same is true for some users that have been banned by other platforms, like far-right talk-show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, as well as the far-right militia group The Proud Boys, among others.
Many experts say the fact that this kind of content is thriving on Parler is cause for alarm.
“What we’ve seen in the past with some of these other fringe or alternative social media sites is, if there’s no rules and if it’s really siloed, then what happens is it gets more and more extreme,” Shannon McGregor, a professor who studies social media at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told NPR.
McGregor also specifically pointed to Gab, another alternative social network that has become well-known for hosting anti-Semitic and white nationalist content.
Even before the recent boom on Parler, critics have argued that the platform was a haven for posts that spread far-right extremism, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories. Now, many are worried that the rise of these alternative platforms will just create an echo chamber of people sharing that kind of content without any kind of fact-checking or warning system.
“When people see news they don’t like, they split off to start their own to confirm their bias. this splintering is dangerous — and it’s only beginning,” reporter J.D. Durkin explained on Twitter.
“I think it’s great there are more platforms in the media space than ever before — good people are earning paychecks doing what they love. what’s dangerous are the echo chambers created as a result and the toxicity against anything telling you what you don’t want to hear.”
While that is certainly an alarming possibility, especially when paired with the historical nature of these sites to slip into extremism, the big question that remains is will these platforms ever get big enough to really rival Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?
While Parler now has 10 million users, that is still a fraction of Twitter’s 187 million daily users and Facebook’s nearly 2 billion.
Meanwhile, even the leading conservative voices that have encouraged people to switch over to Parler are still using Twitter and Facebook, including Bartiromo and Bongino, and many experts are skeptical that the conservatives with the biggest audiences will actually leave larger social media apps, even though they are telling their audiences too.
“All these people have accounts on Twitter because that’s where journalists are and that’s where the press is,” McGregor explained. “If they actually left Twitter, they would be less newsworthy.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Forbes)
Mental Health Startup Cerebral May Have Harmed Hundreds of Patients, Leaked Documents Reveal
The company is being investigated by multiple federal agencies for its questionable practices, which have come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks.
Over 2,000 Incident Reports Shed Light on Recklessness
A Silicon Valley mental health startup called Cerebral may have harmed hundreds of patients by flagrantly disregarding medical standards, according to a cache of documents reviewed by Insider, as well as over 30 interviews with current or former employees by the outlet.
Founded in 2020, Cerebral provides mental health treatment to customers through talk therapy and medication for conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and ADHD.
With people quarantined during the pandemic, it became one of the largest virtual therapy firms in the United States, attracting some $462 million from investors.
Cerebral employees filed at least 2,060 incident reports during seven months in 2021, according to Insider. They show that the company enrolled patients with complex conditions like bipolar disorder, then assigned them to clinicians and other staff members with insufficient training, oversight, and support to treat such cases.
It also put dozens of patients on questionable treatment plans and misdiagnosed many others, the reports say, with company medical providers prescribing potentially lethal combinations of drugs or addictive drugs to patients with histories of addiction.
Additionally, many patients were left stranded without care for extended periods due to technology issues or the company’s failure to retain clinicians.
As a result, Cerebral shuffled patients from one provider to the next and even bungled their prescriptions, sometimes leading them to suffer drug withdrawal or take the wrong medication.
Patients Tell Their Stories
One patient reportedly spent two weeks waiting for a referral to a clinician, later saying she spent eight days in a psychiatric ward.
Another patient told CBS News she was prescribed a drug for her anxiety but afterward could not reach her prescriber for instructions on how to switch to the new medication safely.
“Any time I needed help, she was never available,” she said.
After she did not get a response for six days, she began taking the drug anyway, which caused her to break out in a rash.
“I messaged back,” she said, “letting them know it was spreading and getting worse, and they said that they were still trying to get a hold of that prescriber… They make it seem like they want to help, and then they get you, and then they’re gone.”
A Cerebral spokesperson told Insider that the reports did not highlight enough patients to accurately reflect the company.
“Any incident reports you obtained show Cerebral’s dedication to quality,” the spokesperson said. “You can’t take a relatively small group of incident reports and draw conclusions about our care.”
Two former senior employees told the outlet those reports were monitored by just a couple of people who had other responsibilities at the company, adding that leadership frequently pushed off solving the systemic issues flagged.
Cerebral’s practices are currently being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CBS News) (Fierce Healthcare)
Instagram Testing New Tools To Verify Users Are Over 18
The new tools include AI software that analyzes video footage of a person’s face to verify their age.
Instagram Cracks Down on Underage Users
Instagram is testing new features in the United States to verify the age of users who claim to be over 18 years old.
According to a statement from Instagram’s parent company, Meta, the tools will only apply to users who seek to change their age from under 18 to over 18. The platform previously asked for users to upload their ID for verification in this process, but on Thursday, it announced there will be two new methods for confirming age.
One of the strategies was referred to as “social vouching.” Using this option, people can request that three mutual Instagram followers over the age of 18 confirm their age on the platform.
The other method allows users to upload a video selfie of themselves to be analyzed by Yoti, third-party age verification software. Yoti then estimates a person’s age based on their facial features, sends that estimate to Meta, and both companies delete the recording.
According to Meta, Yoti cannot recognize or identify a face based on the recording and only looks at the pixels to determine an age. Meta said that Yoti “is the leading age verification provider for several industries around the world,” as it has been used and promoted by social media companies and governmental organizations.
Still, some question how effective it will be for this specific use. According to The Verge, while the software does have a high accuracy rate among certain age groups and demographics, data also shows it is less precise for female faces and faces with darker skin tones.
Issues With Kids on Instagram
Meta argues that it is important for Instagram to be able to discern who is and is not 18, as it impacts what version of the app users have access to.
“We’re testing this so we can make sure teens and adults are in the right experience for their age group,” the company’s statement said.
“When we know if someone is a teen (13-17), we provide them with age-appropriate experiences like defaulting them into private accounts, preventing unwanted contact from adults they don’t know and limiting the options advertisers have to reach them with ads,” it continued.
These changes come as Instagram has been facing increased pressure to address the way its app impacts younger users.
Only children 13 and older are allowed to have Instagram accounts, but the service has faced criticism for not doing enough to enforce this. A 2021 survey of high school students found that nearly half of the respondents had created a social media account of some kind before they were 13.
The company also recently came under fire after The Wall Street Journal published internal Meta documents revealing that the company knew that it harmed teens, including by worsening body image issues for young girls and women.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Wall Street Journal) (Axios)
Elon Musk Threatens to Fire Employees Unless They Work in Person Full-Time
The world’s richest man in the world previously suggested that the popularity of remote work has “tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard.”
“If You Don’t Show up, We Will Assume You Have Resigned”
On Wednesday, Electrek published two leaked emails apparently sent from Elon Musk to Tesla’s executive staff threatening to fire them if they don’t return to work in person.
“Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla,” he wrote. “This is less than we ask of factory workers.”
“If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly,” he continued.
Musk then clarified that the “office” must be a main office, not a “remote branch office unrelated to the job duties.”
“There are of course companies that don’t require this, but when was the last time they shipped a great new product? It’s been a while,” he wrote in the second email.
Later on Wednesday, a Twitter user asked Musk to comment on the idea that coming into work is an antiquated concept.
He replied, “They should pretend to work somewhere else.”
The Billionaire Pushes People to Work Harder
Musk has a history of pressuring his employees and criticizing them for not working hard enough.
“All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard. Rude awakening inbound,” he tweeted last month.
Three economists told Insider that remote work during the pandemic did not damage productivity.
“Most of the evidence shows that productivity has increased while people stayed at home,” Natacha Postel-Vinay, an economic and financial historian at the London School of Economics, told the outlet.
Musk is notorious for criticizing lockdown mandates and went so far as to call them “fascist” during a Tesla earnings call in April 2020.
Not long before that, Tesla announced that it would keep its Fremont, California plant open in defiance of shelter-in-place orders across the state.
In an interview with The Financial Times last month, Musk blasted American workers for trying to stay home, comparing them to their Chinese counterparts whom he said work harder.
“They won’t just be burning the midnight oil. They will be burning the 3 a.m. oil,” he said. “They won’t even leave the factory type of thing, whereas in America people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”
That same day, Fortune published an article detailing how Tesla workers in Shanghai work 12-hour shifts, six days out of the week, sometimes sleeping on the factory floor.