Fired Parler CEO: I tried to warn them to crack down

Let the recriminations begin! Parler CEO John Matze announced that the board has fired him as of Friday, not long after the social-media company got deplatformed by Google, Apple, and finally Amazon. Matze tells NPR that majority investor and conservative rainmaker Rebekah Mercer gave him the boot, and while he wasn’t given a specific reason, Matze says that a fundamental clash over Parler’s direction may have been the issue.

Matze wanted to start imposing some moderation standards to get rid of the extremists, he claims, while the board refused to even discuss it:

In an interview with NPR, Matze claimed that there was a dispute with Mercer over just how far Parler would take its openness to free speech. He said if the company wanted to succeed, Parler would have crack down on domestic terrorists and any groups that incite violence, including the Trump-supporting conspiracy theory QAnon.

“I got silence as a result,” Matze said.

Matze said after the attack on the Capitol, he felt that the site had to step up its content policing efforts.

“To me, it was a clear indication of what could have happen if we didn’t change the ways were being done,” he said.

Take this account with a grain of salt, but don’t discount it entirely either. When people get fired, they have a natural impulse to defend themselves, especially if they occupied a particularly public position. The board might have a very different recollection of these events, and it probably won’t be long before we start hearing some alternative versions of this conflict. Given the fact that the social-media site is still down, there’s not much else to do but talk.

In fact, it’s not only still down, its one active page has no content on it except various messages from its earlier active days — half of which come from Matze himself. No one’s apparently thought to take those down after Matze’s termination, at least not yet. One has to wonder whether anyone’s minding the store this week.

Matze’s interview hints at more conflict than just strategic direction between himself and Mercer:

According to Matze, as Parler’s popularity grew, Mercer grew increasingly assertive about the company’s future.

“She was never really involved in the company at all,” he said in an interview. “By the time November 2020 came around, she was ready to insert herself in every discussion.”

Welcome to the Golden Rule: She who has the gold makes the rules. Mercer has long been a big-time donor on the Right and is accustomed to making her money talk. As a major supporter of Donald Trump and the conservo-populist movement, Mercer’s vision of the value of Parler might have been more as an entrée into a platform fight over pure unmoderated discussion rather than survival and evolution — perhaps particularly after the election. Trump’s electoral challenge fight might have meant more to Mercer than the long-term health of the platform itself. With the populist energy for that coming from QAnoners, perhaps Mercer found it more important to court them and give them room to organize than to worry about what might happen in 2021 or 2022.

Or, alternately, Matze might have his own reasons for distancing himself from Parler’s practices. After all, he’s 27 years old and out of a job in the tech industry with which he routinely sparred. He wouldn’t be the first former executive to attempt to rehabilitate himself at the expense of colleagues and allies after a collapse. Sometimes, the trick to that is getting your story out first and making everyone else play catch-up.

Still, burning his investor isn’t a great way to start off the next phase of his life either, as it might make Matze a bit radioactive with other deep-pocketed venture capitalists if and when he comes up with his next big idea. And one has to figure that someone at Parler had to be worried about Amazon’s repeated warnings to clean up the content, warnings that Amazon is producing in court to prove its case that Parler repeatedly defied its terms of service. If it wasn’t Matze, it will be someone else who will eventually make their way to a reporter to tell more of this story.

Parler’s web site still promises to “welcome all of you back soon.” We might have a better chance of getting more of this story as the few who are left keep exiting than we will of seeing the platform’s users get back to social networking on the Parler platform.