Apple will allow the social media app Parler, which casts itself as a champion of free speech, to return to the App Store after it was kicked off the platform in the wake of the Capitol riots for hosting rule-breaking content.
Apple had pledged that Parler, which is controlled by Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, would be welcomed back if it agreed to beef up its content moderation to deal with hate speech.
In a letter to two Republican lawmakers — Colorado congressman Ken Buck and Senator Mike Lee of Utah — dated April 19, Apple said Parler had “proposed updates to its app” that would bring it into compliance.
The app, popular among conservatives and some members of the far right, hosted calls for violence in the days leading up to the assault on the Capitol, including calls for the assassination of former vice-president Mike Pence.
Many conservatives attacked Apple’s ban as an act of censorship by Big Tech, just days after Twitter had thrown then-president Donald Trump off its platform.
Google also banned Parler from Android devices and the app was denied web-hosting services by Amazon, resulting in it going offline.
Lee posted Apple’s letter on Twitter on Monday, adding: “Conservative speech must not be silenced.” Buck hailed the decision as a “huge win for free speech”.
Responding to questions from the Republican lawmakers, Apple said in its letter that Parler had failed to moderate content that “encouraged violence, denigrated various ethnic groups, races and religions, glorified Nazism, and called for violence against specific people”. It also said it took issue with the app’s “content moderation efforts, as well as its desire stated at various times to not moderate content at all”.
It asked Parler to ensure it had tools for filtering and reporting objectionable content, the “ability to block abusive users” and contact information so users can reach the developer. the letter said. By April 14 Apple was satisfied the app had made the needed changes and it “anticipates that the updated app will become available immediately upon Parler releasing it”.
It remains unclear when that will be, however. Parler, which fired its chief executive John Matze in February, is not still available for download and it has not announced a new web-hosting service.
Parler did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did Amazon or Google.
The large social media platforms have faced a barrage of criticism from Congress over their role in US electoral politics. At a hearing last month with the chief executives of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Republicans complained of bias against conservatives while Democrats called for tougher policing of content.
Some lawmakers from both parties have called for reforms to Section 230, the rules that give tech platforms immunity from being sued over user-generated content, in order to hold them more accountable in future.
Apple’s chief compliance officer Kyle Andeer is also set to attend a hearing Wednesday before the Senate competition policy, antitrust and consumer rights subcommittee.