January 11, 2021
Following activist pressure from its own employees, Amazon Web Services kicked social network Parler off its servers today.
Following last week’s riot in Washington DC and the subsequent banning of US President Trump from nearly all social media, one of those that had yet to act against him was Parler. The service positions itself as a less censorious alternative to Twitter and has thus become a refuge for people banned from better known social media platforms. Some AWS employees were keen for their company to do its bit to prevent the use of Parler by Trump or anyone else.
The above tweet makes reference to a Buzzfeed story breaking the news. AWS has yet to make a public announcement on the matter, but we can confirm that the letter from AWS to Parler reproduced in the story is authentic. The reasons given for taking the drastic step of entirely disconnecting the Parler service and website should give all AWS customers and any fans of a free and open internet pause for thought.
“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” wrote the faceless AWS Trust & Safety Team. Of course violent content is bad but we understand Parler already makes that clear in its terms of service. Of course we can’t confirm today that because Parler was apparently naïve enough to host those on AWS servers too.
The real significance of this statement, however, lies in the questions it poses about application and enforcement of AWS terms. The internet is, of course, replete with violent sentiment. If you doubt that, just try expressing an opinion that runs contrary to the prevailing narrative on nearly anything on social media and see what kind of response you get. Yet we’re not aware of AWS inflicting such severe punishment on any other equivalent services.
The selective enforcement of terms of service is endemic to the tech and financial services sector these days, as corporations become increasingly politicised and inclined to cower before the social media mob. While positioned as absolute, their enforcement seems to depend more on activist pressure than anything else. For example, given Trump’s ban for allegedly inciting violence, why does this tweet remain on Twitter?
Here’s how AWS concluded its letter to Parler: “Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety, we plan to suspend Parler’s account effective Sunday, January 10th, at 11:59PM PST. We will ensure that all of your data is preserved for you to migrate to your own servers, and will work with you as best as we can to help your migration.”
Sounds more like a permanent ban than a suspension, doesn’t it? We’re not aware of any appeals process or any path to redemption for Parler, it has been unilaterally cut adrift on the whim of the AWS Trust & Safety Team. By complete coincidence Parler has also been ditched by Google, Apple and countless other technology providers, which could be viewed as a coordinated attempt to drive Parler out of business if you were feeling uncharitable.
Those who approve of AWS’s action will presumably fall back on the old ‘it’s their company, they can do what they want’, argument that is routinely used to dismiss complaints about social media censorship. It’s true, they can, but if it’s Parler today, who might it be tomorrow? AWS customers, you have been warned, don’t cross the AWS Trust & Safety Team or it will cut you off from your own technology infrastructure.
Here’s Parler Chief Policy Officer Amy Peikoff discussing the potential ban late last week.
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