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Amazon says it spent months warning Parler about violent posts

And Amazon brought the receipts to prove it.
Karissa Bell, @karissabe
January 13, 2021
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In this photo illustration Parler logo are displayed on a smartphone screen in Athens, Greece on January 12, 2020. (Photo by Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Amazon has officially responded to Parler’s lawsuit against AWS. In court documents filed Tuesday, Amazon says it warned Parler officials about the violent threats on its platform nearly two months before the riot at the US Capitol sparked the app’s removal from major app stores and technology platforms.

“This case is not about suppressing speech or stifling viewpoints,” Amazon’s lawyers write. “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 content that threatens the public safety, such as by inciting and planning the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens.”

Amazon offers several disturbing examples of the kinds of posts the company says it “repeatedly” flagged to a top Parler executive. In emails dated in mid-November, AWS representatives asked Parler’s Chief Policy Officer Amy Peikoff for more details on how the app moderates content. 

The emails include screenshots of “potential hate speech and incitement of violence content” that was available on the app at the time. The examples include a post with numerous racial slurs directed at Michelle Obama, as well as two posts that include the phrase “Kill ‘em All.”

In a response two day later, Peikoff says that the “Kill ‘em All” comments were “passed on to our regular contact for investigation.” Regarding the post about Obama, though, she notes that “as hateful as it is, would not be deemed a violation of our terms of service.” “Parler does not ban ‘hate speech’ insofar as it would be protected by the First Amendment,” she writes. 

Amazon says that in the seven weeks following that exchange, it “reported more than 100 additional representative pieces of content advocating violence.” Amazon included more than a dozen examples of the posts it reported, including messages calling for the deaths of numerous tech executives and elected officials and calls for a civil war. Parler users also threatened teachers and members of law enforcement, Amazon says. “Parler itself has admitted it has a backlog of 26,000 reports of content that violates its (minimal) community standards that it had not yet reviewed,” the company writes.

Parler filed a lawsuit claiming antitrust violations against Amazon earlier this week. The company argued that Amazon was trying to help Twitter by going after Parler -- a claim AWS has disputed. 

The “free speech” app’s lack of robust content moderation has become a major hurdle for the service, which gained notoriety for being popular among Republican lawmakers and supporters of Donald Trump. In addition to Amazon cutting it off, Apple and Google also cited the company’s content policies and the prevalence of violent threats on Parler, when they pulled the app out of their stores last week. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that Parler would be allowed back in the App Store if the app starts following Apple’s terms of service.

Update 1/13 6:53pm ET: In a statement a spokesperson for AWS confirmed that Amazon had warned Parler several times.

“AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow. However, it is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which is a violation of our terms of service. We made our concerns known to Parler over a number of weeks and during that time we saw a significant increase in this type of dangerous content, not a decrease, which led to our suspension of their services Sunday evening.”

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