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Until U.S. Capitol riot, Amazon expressed scant concern about violent content on Parler, social network says

  • Author: Katherine Khashimova Long, The Seattle Times
  • Updated: January 13
  • Published January 13

In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Amazon executives seemed excited by Parler’s growth and discussed expanding its business relationship with the conservative Twitter competitor, Parler said Wednesday.

In a court filing, Parler said that communication with Amazon continued as Parler prepared for the possibility that President Donald Trump could join the social network, bringing millions of new users with him, Parler said in a new court filing.

The claims complicate Amazon’s portrayal of the events leading up to the Seattle tech giant’s suspension of Parler’s cloud-service account Sunday. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud-computing arm, booted Parler off its servers after reports that users on the right-leaning platform were advocating and glorifying violence against Trump opponents and that Parler users were among the mob storming the Capitol.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal district court in Seattle, Parler asserted that Amazon’s actions breached their service contract and violated antitrust law. Responding Tuesday, Amazon contended that it had repeatedly expressed concern with Parler’s inadequate content moderation and had reported more than 100 problematic posts to Parler executives before ultimately determining that Parler had violated Amazon’s terms of use and suspending its account.

In its Wednesday reply, Parler said Amazon had whitewashed that timeline.

Through December, Amazon executives seemed excited about Parler’s growth, Parler’s attorney wrote. In November and December, after Amazon was aware Trump might join the social network, AWS and Parler discussed the possibility of Parler upgrading its account to use more expensive, proprietary AWS software, Parler’s attorney wrote.

And while Amazon had sporadically flagged Parler posts for removal in November and December, AWS didn’t tell Parler that its “system of handling this material was inadequate or that Parler was in breach of its contract” until after the Jan. 6 riot, when pro-Trump mobs breached the Capitol building, according to the new filing from Parler.

As late as mid-December, Amazon told Parler that the two companies were “definitely in this journey” together to help Parler address concerns about harmful and violent posts, Parler said in its filing. The day of the riot, Amazon again questioned Parler about its content moderation practices, but after receiving Parler’s reply told the social media network it should consider the matter “resolved,” according to Parler’s filing.

Two days later, Amazon executives again contacted Parler, this time with grave concerns about how Parler scrubbed harmful posts from its site. In its filing Wednesday, Parler suggests Amazon was in part concerned with image management: Hours before Amazon told Parler on Friday its account would be suspended, a group of Amazon tech workers had received significant media attention for calling on their employer to dump Parler.

Parler said texts exchanged between an AWS representative and Parler CEO John Matze in the days immediately after the Capitol riot further bolstered its claim that AWS was not materially worried about violent content on Parler until it faced pressure from employees. In those texts, “AWS expressed no concerns with Parler’s content moderation,” Parler said in its filing. “But this same AWS representative repeatedly asked whether the President had joined or would join Parler now that he was blocked by Twitter and Facebook.”

Parler also contended Amazon dismantled its account in order to help Twitter, soon to be a major AWS client. Two AWS executives called that logic bogus in declarations filed Tuesday. Twitter has not yet migrated to AWS and the company does not know when it plans to do so, said the executives, whose names Amazon redacted after receiving “significant and repeated threats of physical violence against AWS, its facilities and its employees” when it suspended Parler, according to an Amazon motion to seal the declarations.

When asked Wednesday about Parler’s claims, an Amazon spokesperson declined to comment and pointed to Amazon’s previous filings in the case.

The company has said that its “decision to suspend Parler is about nothing more than Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability to remove from the servers of 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.”