The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Free Speech

Why I'm Happy That We're on Parler


Parler users have a reputation for being more conservative than users on other platforms, and more conservative than we are. It's hard to know for certain, since it's hard to experience a whole platform; and I'm sure many Parler readers (at least the ones who would read our posts there) are pretty similar to many of our current readers. But let's stipulate to Parler's being more conservative. Let's even stipulate that there are some people on Parler who have views that I not only disagree with, but outright revile.

I'm still very glad to have our blog posts automatically echoed there (where we have, at least notionally, over 90,000 subscribers), as they are on Twitter (both at @VolokhC). That's true for three related reasons.

[1.] I publish this blog because I want to spread our ideas. I'm not terribly picky about who reads us; generally speaking, the more readers, the merrier. (I do think the comments at Parler so far haven't been as substantive as the best of our comments here, but my experience has been that the Parler echoing hasn't substantially affected the Reason comment threads.)

And indeed I want us to be read by people who don't agree with us. Say there are some people on Parler who have what we view as benighted ideas on this or that. Say some of them are racists or anti-Semites or ignorant of the right views (from any particular co-blogger's perspective) on free speech or criminal justice or gay rights or Vice-President Harris's eligibility for office or what have you.

What if something we say actually persuades them? Indeed, people are more likely to be persuaded by those who are generally seen as being on their side of the aisle; and our sense is that we have a reputation as being conservative-friendly, even if we aren't hard-core conservatives.

Some other conservatives (and some libertarians, who are also present on Parler) may read us and change their views, even if slightly. I'd love to persuade moderates, liberals, progressives, or even outright Socialists or further left as well; but with conservatives and libertarians, we might be able to persuade where some others won't be listened to.

Of course, I know that the odds of changing any particular reader's mind are small. You can't always, or even usually, persuade people by talking to them.

But what's more likely: persuading people by talking to them, or by refusing to talk to them?

[2.] Monopolies and near-monopolies tend to produce arrogance by the monopolist, and poor service for customers. If Twitter has more competition, that will be better for Twitter users as well as for their competitors' users. (I'd also love to have us automatically echoed on MeWe, as we are on Facebook, but MeWe apparently doesn't yet have a way of automatically posting items to a page via an RSS feed or a service such as

[3.] Some people complain that Parler doesn't do enough to block bad people who use their service, whether to spread falsehoods or evil ideas or plans for criminal conduct. But I'm skeptical that this should be Parler's job.

The post office doesn't stop mailings by print magazine publishers because their magazines contain evil ideas or fake news. (They do investigate some mail frauds, but that's a fairly narrow category, and in any event they do this using governmental law enforcement procedures.)

Telephone companies (landline or cellular) don't cancel the KKK's phone number, or shut down phone service or text messaging service to people whom someone accuses of planning riots. And that's not just a matter of privacy: They don't do this even when the contents of the magazine are well known, or the KKK publicly announces that some phone number is its recruitment line. I think on balance we're better off when the post office and phone companies aren't policing the viewpoints or factual assertions their customers express.

Now the post office is generally under a First Amendment obligation not to restrict our mailings (unless our speech has been found to be constitutionally unprotected, generally in some governmental proceeding). Telephone companies are likewise common carriers, who generally are legally barred from canceling service because they don't like what their customers are saying. Parler does have the legal right to police the content of speech that uses their services, just as Twitter has that right.

But I don't think it has a moral obligation to do so (just as I don't think Google has a moral obligation to cut off Gmail accounts of people who send messages to friends that someone reports as "misleading" or "defaming," which technically violates Google Terms of Service, or Microsoft has a moral obligation to cut off Outlook accounts of people who "communicat[e] hate speech" or "advocat[e] violence against others"). I think it can reasonably choose to generally leave most content judgments to their users, and enforcement of most laws to law enforcement—just as the legal system has chosen to impose that approach on the post office and phone companies.