This social media network set the stage for Jan. 6, then was taken offline. Now it’s back

Parler, the “censorship-free” social media platform extremists used to hype the Jan. 6 insurrection, is back after an almost one-year hiatus. Meanwhile, online trolls are targeting a video game company and calling themselves “Gamergate 2.0.” And lawsuits stemming from a 2022 extremist mass shooting could change the way courts look at social media’s role in mass killings. 

It’s the week in extremism. 

Plus:Our new USA TODAY report on social-media monitoring in the Air Force

Controversial social media platform Parler is back

Social network Parler was shut down, but owners say it's back.

About 3½ years ago, a then-new social media platform, Parler, had a moment. The site had become a go-to communication source for extremists who had been kicked off other platforms, often for posts that violated rules against hate speech. It played a role in the prelude to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Then, last year, it was shut down.  

Now, Parler is back. And its new owners are promising the site won’t become what it once was.

  • The site is perhaps most famous for its use in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection: USA TODAY compiled Parler posts members of the extremist group the Proud Boys posted on the site before the attack on the Capitol, including one by the group’s leader Enrique Tarrio referring to then-President Donald Trump’s now-infamous message to the group to “stand back and stand by.” Tarrio wrote on Parler: “Standby order has been rescinded.” Other groups including the Oath Keepers, who later saw many top members imprisoned, posted to Parler as well. 
  • Parler was removed from Apple and Google’s app stores after the insurrection.
  • Gizmodo reports Parler was bought by a media conglomerate last year and was shut down for almost a year while the new owners organized the site’s comeback. It relaunched this week and is back on Apple and Google’s app stores.
  • Ryan Rhodes, one of the site’s new owners, told WIRED magazine: “Our goal is to make Parler what it could have been, as a true open platform for everybody to have discourse, right or left.”

Online trolls attack gaming company, calling themselves ‘Gamergate 2.0’

Right-wing internet trolls have been targeting the video game consulting company “Sweet Baby,” claiming falsely that it pushes diversity and inclusion principles into games, according to a new report from the progressive analysis group Media Matters for America. People involved in the attacks have branded themselves “Gamergate 2.0,” in reference to a similar harassment campaign against women in gaming that began in 2014.

  • Media Matters found that mentions of Sweet Baby on the “Politically Incorrect” message board on 4Chan, where the original Gamergate largely began, have spiked since the beginning of March, with more than 500 mentions since then.
  • The report found that videos criticizing the company on YouTube have received millions of views combined, according to the tracking tool BuzzSumo.
  • Media Matters says the online critics think Sweet Baby is “pushing a ‘woke’ agenda by working toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 
  • Media Matters Senior Researcher Alex Kaplan told USA TODAY: “The recent targeting of Sweet Baby is extremely concerning because it is reminiscent of Gamergate, with some of the same fringe entities and online spaces involved, like 4Chan.”
  • Sweet Baby co-founder David Bédard tells The Verge: “The things they say in our inboxes is … the most evil stuff you’ve ever seen in your life.” 

Shooting lawsuits against major social media companies advance

A judge cleared the way this week for several lawsuits stemming from the 2022 white supremacist mass shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in which 10 people were killed. The lawsuits target large social media companies for allowing hate and extremism on their platforms and for profiting from such posts, alleging they influenced the shooter in the case, Peyton Gendron.

  • As CNN reported Tuesday, Erie County Supreme Court Justice Paula Feroleto denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuits filed by attorneys for the tech giants, including Meta, Alphabet and Reddit.
  • Attorneys for the social media companies attempted to argue the platforms are akin to message boards, which simply host third-party content. But Feroleto ruled the “plaintiffs contend the defendants’ platforms are more than just message boards … They allege they are sophisticated products designed to be addictive to young users and they specifically directed Gendron to further platforms or postings that indoctrinated him with ‘white replacement theory,’”
  • “While we disagree with today’s decision and will be appealing, we will continue to work with law enforcement, other platforms, and civil society to share intelligence and best practices,” a YouTube spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

Tech companies have previously managed to avoid legal responsibility for hosting extremist and hateful content or for platforming mass killers. Recently, however, plaintiffs have brought successful lawsuits against firearms manufacturers and prosecutors have successfully tried a mass shooter’s parents. The New York State lawsuits could open a new front in the fight to hold accountable companies and individuals who fail to recognize or stop mass shooters.

Statistic of the week: Life in prison

That was the sentence handed down this week to Robert Justus, a convicted former member of the extremist “Boogaloo” movement, for the 2020 drive-by shooting of a security guard in Oakland.

The shooting happened in the midst of civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. Another adherent of the “Boogaloo Boys,” a meme-focused movement built on hatred of the federal government, was sentenced to 41 years in prison for the shooting in 2022.    

Will Carless is a national correspondent covering extremism and emerging issues. Contact him at Follow him on X @willcarless.

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