(This post originally appeared on The Hill)
Putting aside all the politics, the fact is that Parler – the right-of-center social media platform that this week was terminated from Amazon’s web hosting service – is just a small business. According to data site Crunchbase, the Nevada-based startup was founded in 2018 and employs fewer than 50 people.
Let’s also not ignore the other fact, which is that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a very big business. It’s a multi-billion-dollar division of the online merchant that, according to one research company, hosts applications for more than a million users and companies and where small and mid-size companies make up the majority of their user base.
AWS competes with Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and other cloud-based web-hosting platforms. And AWS is no different than these competitors — and even for that matter social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. They all have rules, and to play on their services, you must play by their rules. This is not a matter of free speech. These are private companies offering a service. I’m not saying I agree with all their rules or how consistently or fairly they’re implemented. But it’s their servers. Their applications. Their technology. Their rules.
Parler was thrown off of AWS for allegedly breaking those rules. The owners of the social media service can argue, litigate and fight for their free speech rights all they want. But, right now, they’re out of business. They’re scrambling to find a web hosting service that doesn’t have as much of a problem with what they do. They’ve got major, major issues.
By the way, Parler is not the first to run afoul of these rules. The company is no different than so many other small businesses that are engaged in potentially controversial activities.
Just ask “Laura” and “Rachel,” the two women who host an intelligent, ethical (and hilarious) podcast on the porn industry (a podcast with over 2 million downloads) who are constantly fighting the rule makers at Instagram and Twitter that have repeatedly taken down their pages.
Of course, they’re not the only ones. A small business that bought more than $46 million in Facebook ads was all of a sudden shut out from advertising on Facebook. The sellers of completely legal firearms cannot promote their products on Twitter or Facebook. In fact, Facebook has a list of 36 (and growing) products that cannot be advertised on its platform, including rehab services, payday and short-term loans, prescription drugs or what Facebook considers to be unsafe supplements. AWS specifically states in its terms of service that users “may not use, or encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to use, the Services or AWS Site for any illegal, harmful, fraudulent, infringing or offensive use, or to transmit, store, display, distribute or otherwise make available content that is illegal, harmful, fraudulent, infringing or offensive.”
If you’re running a small business like Parler then, hey, go ahead and fight this. Knock yourself out. But the fact is that Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and all these other services and platforms have rules, and if you want to rely on those platforms for your livelihood then you’d better make sure you’re in compliance. Period.
The people running Parler aren’t dummies. They know that their content can be inflammatory or even incite violence. They’ve seen other rightwing people like Alex Jones, Kanye West and James Woods either permanently or temporarily thrown off of other sites. In fact, their entire business model is based on being an alternative to these mainstream social media sites and Big Tech companies that they oppose. And yet here they are reliant on one of the biggest of those tech firms, Amazon, to sustain their business. And what, they have no backup plan? No alternative hosting service? No response?
The large tech companies aren’t at fault here. They are no different or less powerful than the major TV and radio networks that have dominated the media over the past 80 years. Small businesses who choose to rely on those services for their customers must go into these relationships with their eyes wide open. They have to follow the rules. If they think they may run into trouble, then they’d better have a Plan B. And if they don’t see the threat that is inherent in relying on these platforms then they deserve to go the way of Parler.