By now, all Americans—both Republicans and Democrats—are aware of Amazon Web Services’ sudden and abrupt silencing two weeks ago of Parler, the emerging rival of Twitter. But arguably most important to notice is that AWS had been made aware by Parler since at least Oct. 11, 2020 of the real possibility that President Trump might open an account on Parler, offering AWS confidential and firsthand insider information about the President’s potential move to the platform under the pseudonym “Person X.”
AWS’s knowledge of Trump’s possible account on Parler makes the fact Twitter had recently become an AWS client undoubtedly significant. Why? Fast forward to Jan. 8, 2021, when Twitter abruptly announced it was permanently banning President Trump. Almost immediately thereafter, AWS alerted Parler of its decision to terminate its contract and take Twitter’s rival platform offline.
Parler was stunned by AWS’s unexpected hit. As stated in court documents filed in Parler’s lawsuit against AWS, at no time before Jan. 9, 2021, did AWS notify Parler that it was in material breach of its contractual agreement with the media monopoly.
Parler CEO John Matze, Jr. explained that when AWS took Parler on as a client, it was well aware that Parler’s content moderation methods were reactive, meaning it moderated content after posting, when necessary. In fact, in a move to strengthen its relationship with Parler, AWS sent Parler an email in Sept. 2020 offering to finance the company as part of a program for startups. Then, in mid-Dec. 2020, reps from AWS spoke with Parler about using its proprietary database (utilizing AI to proactively intercept detrimental content) for Parler’s core functionality. Parler’s lawsuit reiterates that AWS offered both of these proposals with complete awareness of its infrastructure (or lack thereof) and content moderation processes.
Moreover, on Dec. 10, 2020, in the midst of the growing relationship between Parler and AWS, Matze met with AWS reps to discuss the long-term engagement of using AWS systems. The move would require an enormous investment and trust on Parler’s behalf to specifically design aspects of its software to function only with AWS, making it more difficult if not impossible for the budding company to operate without AWS. Additionally, Parler had recently informed AWS that preliminary testing using AI to prescreen inappropriate content, including that which encouraged or incited violence, showed great promise.
To further explain Parler’s position at the time, Parler asserts that AWS was acutely aware that on Jan. 6-8, 2021, it was actively addressing the content moderation challenges that were intensified by an unprecedented rise in Parler users (15 million) and activity due to the current events and the political climate. The approximately 26,000 backlogged reports of violent or abusive content referenced by AWS in their legal briefing occurred during a seven-hour stretch on Fri., Jan. 8, 2021, when Parler’s software intermittently went down due to stresses resulting from the unusual circumstances causing the activity surge. Once Parler was back up and running, it immediately began removing content, and within 48 hours, Parler had reviewed all but 1,000 of the problematic posts.
During that time, Matze was in touch with AWS, who in no way indicated that it considered Parler’s responsiveness to flagged content nor its content moderation to be a violation of their service agreement. Initially, AWS communicated to Parler that a resolution to address its concerns could be worked out. AWS reps engaged with Parler’s Chief Technical Officer and technical support until approximately 7:00 PM ET on Jan. 9, when AWS technical support stopped helping Parler navigate through its technical issues.
In an interview on Jan. 17, Matze told Fox News, “Amazon, as usual, [was] basically saying, ‘Oh, I never saw any material problems. There’s no issues.’ You know, they played it off very nonchalantly. And so we had still even, you know, on the 8th and the 9th, you know, we had no real indication that this was, you know, deadly serious.”
Interestingly, once AWS terminated Parler’s contract, took Parler offline, and shut down all of its services, it left open Route 53, which, according to court documents, is “a highly scalable domain name system (DNS) . . . , which conveniently directed hackers to our backup datacenters and caused them to initiate a sizeable DNS attack.” This allegedly coordinated attack was described in a recent UncoverDC exclusive interview with the host sharing platform Epik when it released a statement about Parler, free speech, and online censorship.
On Jan. 13, AWS responded, saying, “This case is not about suppressing speech or stifling viewpoints. It is not about a conspiracy to restrain trade. Instead, this case is about Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability to remove from the servers of Amazon Web Services (‘AWS’) content that threatens the public safety, such as by inciting and planning the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens.” However, despite legacy media attempts to associate Parler with the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, not one person (at time of filing) who had been arrested had an account on Parler.
AWS claims it “suspended and did not terminate the account” of Parler, despite making it clear there was nothing the social media platform could do to continue its relationship with them, thus permanently terminating its agreement with Parler. Which, according to the agreement’s plain terms, requires a 30 days’ notice. AWS also alleges that Section 230 protects it from legal action. But Parler disagrees, maintaining that under Ninth Circuit Precedent, AWS’s federal and state claims are all based on allegations of anti-competitive conduct, and therefore not applicable.
Currently, Parler’s domain name is registered with Epik, a move that brings the company closer to its aggressive goal of being back online by the end of the month. Nonetheless, Matze states that multiple members of his team have expressed fear for their careers and their safety. The CEO himself has had to relocate his family due to death threats. Matze maintains that right now, Parler is “a social network without a network. By turning off Parler’s online capabilities, AWS has crushed our business’s growth and eviscerated its ability to function as a going concern. Until those online capabilities are restored, Parler faces the very real and immediate prospect of permanent destruction.”
This article has been updated to include a video link from Parler CEO John Matze, Jr.
Editors Note: UncoverDC is hosted at Epik