Filing: Amazon warned Parler for months about “more than 100” violent threats

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3D logo hangs from a convention center ceiling.
Enlarge / Amazon Web Services (AWS) logo displayed during the 4th edition of the Viva Technology show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 17, 2019, in Paris, France.

Amazon on Tuesday brought receipts in its response to seemingly defunct social networking platform Parler's lawsuit against it, detailing AWS' repeated efforts to get Parler to address explicit threats of violence posted to the service.

In the wake of the violent insurrection at the US Capitol last Wednesday, AWS kicked Parler off its Web-hosting platform at midnight Sunday evening. In response, Parler filed a lawsuit accusing Amazon of breaking a contract for political reasons and colluding with Twitter to drive a competitor offline.

But the ban has nothing to do with “stifling viewpoints” or a “conspiracy” to restrain a competitor, Amazon said in its response filing (PDF). Instead, Amazon said, “This case is about Parler's demonstrated unwillingness and inability” to remove actively dangerous content, including posts that incite and plan “the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens… AWS suspended Parler's account as a last resort to prevent further access to such content, including plans for violence to disrupt the impending Presidential transition.”

“If there is any breach, it is Parler's demonstrated failure and inability to identify and remove such content,” Amazon added. “Compelling AWS to host content that plans, encourages, and incites violence would be unprecedented.”

Not sudden at all

To an outside observer, both Parler's rapid rise to prominence and its thorough deplatforming at the end of last week and over the weekend may have felt extremely sudden. Parler launched in 2018 but only gained any real widespread traction a few months ago, around the November election.

Reports first began to surface in December that right-wing fringe elements were using Parler and other platforms to plan a protest or gathering of some kind in Washington, DC, on January 6. The entire world saw how those “gatherings” turned out last week.

Last Friday, in the wake of the events at the Capitol, Google banned Parler from the Android app store, citing the platform's failure to remove “egregious content like posts that incite violence.” Apple followed a day later, similarly suspending Parler from iOS over its failure to address “the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety.” By the end of the weekend, Parler had gotten the boot from AWS as well and was taken completely offline.

But far from getting cut off suddenly, Parler had months of warning, Amazon says. Amazon's filing included copies of emails it sent to Parler in mid-November (PDF, content warning for racial slurs) containing screenshots full of racist invective about Democrats, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, with a series of responses from other users to “kill 'em all.”

Amazon provided “more than 100 additional representative pieces of content” advocating violence on Parler over the following seven weeks, the company said. Another document in the filing (PDF, also with content warning for racial slurs and threats of violence) lays out dozens of examples of posts Amazon reported to Parler, beginning in mid-December. Those posts call for, among other things: killing a specific transgender person; actively wishing for a race war and the murder of Black and Jewish people; and killing several activists and politicians such as Stacey Abrams, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and former President Barack Obama.

Representatives from AWS spoke with Parler executive leadership on both January 8 and 9 about the platform's “content moderation policies, processes, and tools,” Amazon said. In response, Parler allegedly offered steps that would rely on “volunteer” moderation, and Parler CEO John Matze allegedly told AWS that “Parler had a backlog of 26,000 reports of content that violated its community standards and remained on its service.”

Legitimate concerns

Violent threats made by at least some Parler users have unfortunately proven to be far from hypothetical.

Nearly all of Parler's content was archived before the service went completely offline. Gizmodo reporters digging into that archived data were able to find several hundred Parler users who were posting video to the platform from in or near the Capitol during the events of January 6.

Ad-hoc efforts on Reddit and Twitter to gather screenshots and video from Parler also show a disturbing pattern of threats and claims made on the platform in the days both before and after the January 6 insurrection.

As The Washington Post reported Tuesday, the FBI was also well aware of credible threats of violence being made online. On January 5, the day before rioters stormed the Capitol, an FBI office in Norfolk, Virginia, issued a memo reading in part, “An online thread discussed specific calls for violence to include stating ‘Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.'”

Neither have the threats of violence abated, unfortunately. The District of Columbia is slowly turning into a fortress ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next week, as credible threats of violence continue to target not only the nation's capital, but also state capitals as well.

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