An alternative social media site, Parler, crashed after President Donald Trump’s account was suspended from Twitter, and by around 8 p.m. Eastern on January 8, it was back online for many users. Some were still were reporting issues by around 8:30 p.m., including issues loading the app, but those issues were later resolved. This isn’t the first time Parler crashed, and the site has shown similar networking timeout errors in the past when there was a large influx of users at one time. The site has been a favored go-to for Trump supporters and came under scrutiny after the U.S. Capitol riots. Here’s what happened.
The App Went Down After Trump Was Banned from Twitter
Shortly after Twitter announced that it was permanently suspending Trump’s account on January 8, 2021, users on Parler reported that the social media site was down.
After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.https://t.co/CBpE1I6j8Y
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 8, 2021
The Twitter Safety account announced: “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
At the time it wasn’t clear why Parler went down, but many suspected that a large number of people going to Parler to discuss Trump’s Twitter suspension played a key role. On a subreddit called ParlerWatch, one user commented that they went to Parler simply to see the reactions to the Twitter news.
Despite a rumor that Trump had a Parler account, Reuters reported that he did not as of January 7.
On Twitter, people also commented on the timing of the site going down, with some wondering if the app was disabled.
The Parler app is down. Either it’s server has been overloaded right now or the app has been disabled.
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) January 8, 2021
One person received an error that read: “there was an issue fetching the feed.”
parler also seems down pic.twitter.com/XIIruFKchN
— Luke Johnson (@johnson) January 8, 2021
The Site Showed a Network Timeout Error & Parler Officials Later Said the App Simply Had Too Many People Visiting at Once
When the app was down, the site was either not loading for some users at all or showing errors. Users reported a “No Content found” error in some situations.
Others reported seeing a Networking Error that read: “It seems that we are either over capacity or you are experiencing a poor network connection.”
Late Saturday night, Alexander Blair, CTO of Parler, shared what had caused the app to go down. Here are screenshots of what he wrote.
Blair wrote, in part, that the issues seen were due to “the massive influx of new members coming onboard to Parler.” He also added that they were working on alternative ways to acquire the app. “It might be a couple of rocky days ahead as we keep patching and fixing things, every time we find and issue, we’re chasing it down with whatever team members are needed so we can ensure the best possible experience through these times of growth.”
Apple Threatened to Ban Parler from the App Store
Earlier on January 8, Apple threatened to ban Parler from the App store, Buzzfeed News reported. The threat was made via an email to Parler executives after complaints were received that the app was used to coordinate the Capitol riots.
Buzzfeed reported that Apple’s email included the following: “We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property. The app also appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.”
Apple told Parler that it had 24 hours to submit an update about a plan to improve moderation or the app would be removed.
Buzzfeed reported that John Matze, CEO of Parler, said on the site that they would not “cave to pressure from anti-competitive actors.” He reportedly wrote, in part: “We will and always have enforced our rules against violence and illegal activity. But we WONT cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech.”
Google Removed the App from the Goole Play Store
On January 8, after Parler crashed, CNN reported that Google had removed Parler from the Google Play store. Google confirmed the decision with CNN Business on Friday night. This was not the cause of the crash, however.
A spokesperson told CNN: “We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US. We recognize that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content. In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”
When a Similar Error Was Seen in November, It Was Due to a Large Number of People Using Parler at Once
Parler is a microblogging, social networking site that first was launched in August 2018. It was founded by John Matze and Jared Thomson, Buzzfeed News reported. Matze is currently the CEO. Parler allows users to post with a 1,000-character limit, and others can vote on posts or “echo” them.
The last time Parler went down with the same error as seen on January 8, officials at Parler shared that these errors were due to a large number of people signing up at one time. This happened in November 2020.
Alexander Blair, CTO of Parler, posted the following message about the issues back in November. He wrote, in part: “Over the last couple of days, we’ve received a massive influx of new Parler community members, and we’re delighted to have everyone onboard! The system’s infrastructure is designed to scale extremely rapidly…however, there’s a couple of activities that everyone’s been using that are less-used in general, so we didn’t have quite as many optimizations around them…”
Matze added his own message back in November:
Matze wrote, in part: “Scaling issues are normal! We are prepared for this mostly, however not everything is predictable. We have increased the number of people per day on Parler by 4x in the last 24 hours…. it’s looking like this trend will continue…”