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Ousted Parler CEO says he feels “betrayed” by Rebekah Mercer

Preamble

John Matze, who was fired last week as CEO of Parler, said his former company, which purports to champion free speech, is trying to muzzle his.

Shortly before an interview with USA TODAY, Matze said he received a written warning that he violated the terms of his confidentiality agreement by making disparaging statements and disclosing inside information to the media that could have “serious and material adverse effects on the business or reputation of the company.”

Matze denies this.

“That’s not the vision I had for the company,” Matze told USA TODAY. “These people just want to censor me. Obviously, my statement about their vision not aligning with mine must be true considering they are trying to stop me from speaking my mind.”

According to Matze, Parler terminated him without severance and, in the email, indicated to him that it was stripping him of his equity in the company.

The company could not be immediately reached for comment.

Conservative political donor and Parler investor Rebekah Mercer, daughter of hedge-fund investor Robert Mercer, previously said she and Matze started Parler “to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended” and in response to the “ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.”

In a memo to Parler staffers obtained by Fox News, Matze wrote: “On January 29, 2021, the Parler board controlled by Rebekah Mercer decided to immediately terminate my position as CEO of Parler. I did not participate in this decision.”

Parler’s chief policy officer, Amy Peikoff, responded with this statement to USA TODAY: “Mr. Matze’s characterizations of the events and circumstances surrounding his termination from the Parler CEO position have been inaccurate and misleading.”

Parler is one of the social media platforms used by supporters of then-President Donald Trump to plan and chronicle the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., asked the FBI to investigate Parler’s role in the Jan. 6 attack.

The violent chatter prompted Apple and Google to yank Parler from their app stores. Then Amazon, which hosted the Parler site, pulled the plug.

Parler sued Amazon in federal court, claiming the web hosting service breached its contract.

But in a preliminary ruling, the federal judge in the case sided with Amazon, saying it was Parler that violated the terms of a contract by not removing violent and hateful speech flagged by Amazon.

Matze made his case in the press, saying Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube were also used to organize support for the “save America” and “stop the steal” rally in Washington.

According to a ProPublica review of videos and other posts, Parler appeared to play a major role in the Capitol siege. A USA TODAY text analysis published this week showed that calls for civil war intensified on Parler as Trump urged his followers to march on the Capitol.

Disagreements over how to regulate that kind of speech on the platform pitted Matze against Mercer, according to Matze. He urged Parler to crack down on Neo-Nazis and any other domestic terrorism groups that incite violence, but he says his position was met with silence by Mercer.

Still, he says the blame heaped on Parler is misplaced.

“I don’t believe that any of these changes would have changed the outcome of the 6th,” he said. “I believe that would have happened with or without social media due to growing political extremism.

“People would have still gathered, they would have still been upset and they would have still heard his speech, and they probably still would have stormed the Capitol,” he said. “I think this is a failure of leadership really, in general. And it’s not just President Trump, but he is largely responsible for that.”

Launched in 2018, Parler positioned itself as a nonpartisan, free speech alternative to Facebook and Twitter with fewer restrictions on what people can say.

Matze and Jared Thomson named it after the French word “to speak.” Investors include Mercer and media personality Dan Bongino.

Parler took off during the contentious election cycle, surging from fewer than 1 million users to 15 million in January as users defected from Facebook and Twitter over their handling of Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud and their suspensions of the former president’s accounts.

As the social media platform grew, so did infighting over the platform’s future, according to Matze.

Parler has been offline for nearly a month but was close to being restored when it ousted him, Matze said.

When the platform is back up and running, he says he’s not sure he will remain on it.

“I definitely want to troll for a bit on it,” Matze said. “I want to see if they’ll ban me.”

Source: Jessica Guyn – USA TODAY

The interview

John Matze, fired last month as CEO of social media app Parler, tells Axios on HBO that he feels “betrayed” by investor Rebekah Mercer, the heiress daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.

Why it matters: Never before has a social media startup risen so high and fallen so far in such a short period of time.

Matze says he first met Rebekah Mercer while doing IT consulting for her father’s firm, and remained in touch.

“She seemed very nice … and I don’t judge anybody by the press that I see.”

Mercer helped fund Parler in 2018, and she became its controlling shareholder. Matze says she and her people began getting more operationally involved as the site gained traction around the 2020 presidential election.

Early cracks in the partnership began to form last summer, according to Matze, when there was internal disagreement over how Parler should define “violence” in its terms of service.

He claims that he wanted a broader definition than what was ultimately adopted, although he publicly supported the TOS in several subsequent interviews.

But Matze, whose libertarian leanings seemed to interfere with his ability to be a strong CEO, says the internal conflicts intensified around Jan. 6, as Parler’s popularity peaked and its problematic posts proliferated.

In short, he says he wanted more automated moderation than did Mercer’s reps and allies, adding that Parler had added a remedial AI solution just before being kicked off of Amazon’s cloud hosting services.

Matze claims he continued advocating for moderation, as a way to get Parler back online, but was met with resistance. It’s a retelling that seems supported by recent public statements by Dan Bongino, the Trump acolyte and Parler shareholder who has criticized Matze for speaking publicly about his firing.

Matze, who says he voted for Trump in 2016 but didn’t vote at all in 2020, was fired via email on Jan. 29.

What he’s saying: “I thought I knew her. She invited my family on trips with them and everything. I thought that she was, generally speaking, I thought she was being real. And then she just abruptly has her people fire me and doesn’t even talk to me about it.”

“I feel like it was a stab in the back by somebody that I thought I knew. And so for me, you know, I would never do business with her again.”

Source: AXIOS

Notes:

Ex-Parler CEO John Matze says he didn’t want Trump deal

Ex-Parler CEO John Matze tells “Axios on HBO” that the social media company’s negotiations last summer to bring President Trump onto the Twitter rival were a lose-lose proposition and never got beyond unsigned, non-binding term sheets.

What Matze says: “I didn’t like the idea of working with Trump, because he might have bullied people inside the company to do what he wanted. But I was worried that if we didn’t sign the deal, he might have been vengeful and told his followers to leave Parler.”

Former Parler CEO John Matze discusses why he thinks former President Trump never joined the platform.

Backstory: BuzzFeed News reported Friday that Matze and two Parler advisers met at Mar-a-Lago last June to discuss a deal whereby the Trump organization would receive a 40% stake in Parler in exchange for Trump making Parler his exclusive social media home.

Trump himself was not in attendance, but his campaign chief and campaign lawyer were there.

Matze did not mention the Mar-a-Lago meeting when interviewed Thursday by “Axios on HBO,” for an episode airing Sunday. Instead, he said neither he nor other Parler executives had met with Trump or “anyone in the White House” about the former president creating a Parler account.

The Buzzfeed story does not contradict that statement, since it references negotiations with Trump “campaign” officials.

During a subsequent phone interview, Matze told Axios the Mar-a-Lago meeting was set up by Jeffrey Wernick, an early Parler investor and its eventual chief operating officer. He says it lasted a few hours and that he didn’t sleep over at the private club in Florida where Trump now lives.

Matze adds he doesn’t know if the first offer was made by Wernick or by Trump campaign officials.

Source: AXIOS