What Happened When Cops Joined MAGA Hellsite Parler

·5 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty

In June 2020, when the social media site Parler was gaining traction with a motley pro-Trump crowd, the alt-tech site gained a surprisingly official new user: the Los Angeles Police Department.

But one Capitol riot later, the LAPD has cut ties with the controversial social media platform. Meanwhile, other police departments with Parler accounts say they’re just squatting on the profiles so no one else uses them, and at least one department says the official-looking Parler account registered under its name is actually a hoax.

Billed as an alternative to sites like Facebook and Twitter, Parler soared in popularity last summer after the Trump administration reportedly searched for alternatives to big-name social media platforms. That GOP-friendly branding made the site a beacon for the right. Still, the site attempted to court mass-market appeal, even offering a $20,000 bounty for progressive celebrities.

For a time, membership from police departments across the country looked like a win for Parler’s reputation. But after prominent Parler users participated in an attack on the U.S. Capitol, prompting a temporary Parler shutdown, not even the nation’s police departments are keen to associate with the site.

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The LAPD joined Parler for community outreach, the department told The Daily Beast.

“The LAPD has a presence on a wide variety of social media networks including but not limited to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, and Nextdoor, with the goal of reaching as large of an audience across various demographics,” a spokesperson said.

After the Capitol attack, however, the department determined that Parler was not comparable to the TikToks and Reddits of the internet. Leaked Parler data shows a swarm of users in and around the building during the riot, and violent threats persisted on the site even after the Capitol was cleared.

“The Department deleted their LAPDHQ Parler account on January 10, 2021, and received confirmation from their team that the account had been removed,” the spokesperson said. He added that the deletion “was an internal decision based on a variety of factors.” (Parler did not return a request for comment.)

That date was also the last time Parler users would be able to use the site for a month. The previous day, Amazon announced that it would cease providing web services for Parler, starting shortly before midnight on Jan. 10. The decision, which Amazon attributed to rampant violence on the site, forced Parler offline until mid-February.

While Parler was offline, a phantom version of the site was being uploaded to the internet by activists, who had exploited a weakness in Parler’s code and scraped all its information. The huge data trove revealed location data for many users, some of which journalists traced back to the nation’s police stations. Much of that activity appears to have been police officers operating personal accounts, as was the case with a Bend, Oregon, officer who posted a Parler video of himself in his precinct.

Some of it, however, came from official departments. The same Bend, Oregon, department still maintains a Parler account, although it is currently blank and the department told Gizmodo in January that it had created the account to prevent imposters.

Police in College Station, Texas also have a blank Parler account. A spokesperson told The Daily Beast they’d reserved their handle when they thought Parler might become a popular, apolitical website.

“This account was created for the primary purpose of reserving our username (and to prevent others from impersonating us) and is not being utilized at this time. This account was created when the platform first came to our attention, at a time when the platform was gaining in popularity and before the platform became extremely politicized,” the spokesperson said. He added that the department had not completely ruled out using Parler, if it cleans up its act.

“We have similarly reserved our username on other social media platforms (including Snapchat, TikTok, and Pinterest),” the spokesperson added. “We have not utilized the platform to post content, but are keeping the username reserved in the event the platform becomes depoliticized at some point in the future and/or a significant percentage of our community chooses to utilize this platform (as we strive to engage with all members of our community).”

Wasilla, Alaska’s police department, which also maintains a blank Parler account, offered a similar explanation.

“Honestly, I haven’t been on it at all. I don’t have a [personal] account, I don’t know anybody with an account, I haven’t looked at anything,” a Wasilla Police spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “The only time I logged on was to set up the account.” The Wasilla Police Parler account was registered in mid-November, when Parler’s membership was soaring following Trump’s election loss as Twitter and other platforms labeled his fraud claims false.

“I didn’t know what it was until I heard all the controversy that came out,” the spokesperson added. “I think I also have a Tumblr account for that reason. We just have an account so people don’t make one that looks like us and post terrible things under our name.”

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That fear might not be entirely irrational: In Santa Maria, California, police say the official-looking Parler account registered to their name is a forgery.

“That’s not us. I don't know who that is,” a Santa Maria Police spokesperson told The Daily Beast, adding that he’d checked with the city government, which was also stumped by the Parler account.

He noted that the profile uses the same handle as the police department’s official Twitter account. The account’s profile picture and biography appear copied verbatim from the Twitter account.

The apparently bogus Santa Maria Police account appears blank, although Parler pages seem to have been wiped during the site’s month offline.

Even for the LAPD, which attempted to delete its account on Jan. 10, questions about Parler’s inner workings lingered.

As of midday Monday, a locked, apparently blank Parler account with the LAPD’s old handle was still live on the site. Alerted to the profile’s continued existence on Monday, the LAPD told The Daily Beast it asked Parler to purge the account.

It vanished shortly thereafter.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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