Tim Cook has finally faced some questions about Parler’s suspension from the App Store and what it would take to come back. His answers toe the company line, but are nonetheless revealing to hear from the Apple chief executive.
“We’ve only suspended them, Chris,” Cook said during a Fox News Sunday interview with Chris Wallace. “If they get their moderation together they would be back on there.”
The comment came after some direct questioning about Apple’s Jan. 9 decision to boot Parler off the App Store. The social media app, which is basically a Twitter clone that’s been embraced by right wing extremists, came under fire for the role it apparently played in helping domestic terrorists organize around the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
At the time, as Parler’s role in the whole affair became clearer, Apple gave the platform’s leadership a 24-hour grace period to clean up its lacking content moderation. (In the process, Apple inadvertently made Parler the top app in the App Store.) That didn’t happen, and so Parler was removed.
Cook was quick to defend Apple’s decision to suspend when Wallace wondered whether the move amounted to a restriction of free speech. (It’s worth noting that Parler’s removal isn’t specifically a free speech violation, since Apple is a business that is free to choose which apps are and aren’t available in the App Store.)
“We have an App Store that has about 2 million apps in it. And we have terms of service for these apps,” Cook said. “We obviously don’t control what’s on the internet, but we’ve never [taken the view] that our platform should be a simple replication of the internet. We have rules and regulations, and we just ask that people abide by those.”
Parler got the boot only after “we looked at the incitement to violence that was on there.” As Cook explained it, Apple doesn’t see an “intersection” between that kind of rhetoric and free speech. The legal definition of “incitement” is incredibly narrow, but again, Apple can make whatever choices it wants to for the health of its business. And at that moment, people were screaming with anger about the role Parler seemed to play in the events of Jan. 6.
The way things stand right now, it’s not clear when or even if Parler will return. Ever since the Capitol attack, the company has (understandably) struggled to keep working with the kinds of service providers that allow such a platform to exist.
The Parler domain has already been transferred to a registrar that has a history of working with similarly controversial platforms. But Parler’s own CEO said on the same day that the service “will likely be down longer than expected.” He blamed the lengthier downtime on vendors being unwilling to work with the company anymore.
Though it’s possible there’s more to what’s happening here. In the days after the Capitol attack, it came out that Parler’s entire posting history had been archived, including posts that had been deleted. Part of the reason for that is the platform itself, which, in the words of Mashable’s own Matt Binder, is “poorly coded.”
It could be that, in addition to the moderation issues Parler needs to address, there’s also a top-to-bottom rebuild happening in order to better ensure privacy for any users. Though of course it’s already too late for the many who participated in the sacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and who used Parler to plan for and document the events of the day.
All that said, Cook’s suggestion that there’s still a place for Parler in the App Store should come as a relief to those who feel that “Big Tech” wields too much power over who and where people can say things online. Maybe not the best hill to defend given Parler’s connection to a domestic terror incident, but here we are.