Jeff Bezos once got so frustrated with Alexa’s lack of intelligence that he told Alexa to ‘shoot yourself’ – and Amazon’s engineers heard it

Amazon Echo
Amazon’s Alexa is set to answer people’s queries, from the weather to CDC guidelines.

  • The test models of Amazon Alexa-powered devices frustrated employees and even Jeff Bezos.
  • Engineers once heard Bezos tell the device to “shoot yourself in the head.”
  • Other testers said it was a stupid product and would hardly respond correctly.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Amazon was first testing what would eventually become “Alexa,” some workers and even the company’s CEO Jeff Bezos were frustrated with its performance, according to a new book about the business.

Bezos tested the Alexa-powered device – then a project referred to as the “Doppler” – at his home in Seattle.

“In pique of frustration over its lack of comprehension, he told Alexa to go ‘shoot yourself in the head,'” according to author Brad Stone’s new book, “Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire,” which was released Tuesday.

Engineers who reviewed interactions with the device heard Bezos’ comment and thought the project was done for.

Read more: Big Tech has a new battleground: self-driving cars. Here’s how Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Sundar Pichai hope to capture the $290 billion market.

Hundreds of Amazon employees also tested out the device and complained of its lack of intelligence.

One manager, who had to fill out a spreadsheet every week explaining what questions he asked and how the device responded, said, “It would hardly ever give me the right answer.”

Another tester said it was a stupid product, adding that the device was “doomed” because it “didn’t work for shit.”

But eventually engineers at the company figured out how to make the “Doppler,” smarter. In 2014, Amazon released the first version of its novel Alexa device. Within five years, the company sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa built in.

Use of the Alexa devices soared during the pandemic, as people started using them more to connect, and even to find out what day of the week it was. Now, it has helped people find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine and schedule an appointment. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story.

In his last shareholder letter, Bezos said that when he started the company in 1997, “we hadn’t invented Prime, Marketplace, Alexa, or AWS. They weren’t even ideas then, and none was preordained. We took great risk with each one and put sweat and ingenuity into each one.”

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Former Parler CEO John Matze has sued the social-media site and conservative megadonor Rebekah Mercer, accusing them of wrongly ousting him and taking his 40% stake

John Matze, Rebekah Mercer
The lawsuit by John Matze (left) alleges that Rebekah Mercer (right) was responsible for his wrongful ousting from Parler in January.

  • Former CEO John Matze sued Parler Monday, accusing it of “theft” of his 40% ownership stake.
  • The lawsuit claimed that the company wrongly ousted him after he proposed stricter content moderation.
  • Board head Rebekah Mercer used the platform to advance her own political interests, the lawsuit said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Parler has been sued by its former CEO John Matze.

Matze claimed in the lawsuit,, filed Monday in Nevada, that he was wrongly ousted in January after he proposed stricter content-moderation rules for the social-media site, which is popular with the far-right.

The suit also claimed that conservative megadonor Rebekah Mercer, who heads Parler’s board, and other senior staff conspired to take Matze’s 40% stake in the company and used the platform to advance her own political interests.

Mercer, who already owned a 60% stake in the site, “sought to co-opt [Parler] as a symbol or as the ‘tip of the spear’ for her brand of conservatism, and plotted to force Matze out,” the suit said.

Matze is seeking “millions” in compensatory damages.

The Las Vegas Sun first reported on the news.

Insider contacted Parler for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

Parler, which became a haven for far-right activity because of its lax stance on moderating content, came under fire during the January Capitol riots, when users cheered on the protestors or called for more violence. After the siege, Parler was booted offline by its previous web host Amazon Web Services, and shunned by other tech giants, including Apple and Google.

AWS said that the site “poses a very real risk to public safety” and refused to remove content that incited violence. Parler denied this.

Read more: Facebook says it removed more than 1.3 billion fake accounts in the months surrounding the 2020 election

The new filing claimed Matze proposed new content-moderation policies that would have banned posts that incited violence while still supporting free speech. His ideas were shunned by Parler’s board, who instead wanted to use the site for their own political interests, the suit said.

“Matze’s proposal was met with dead silence, which he took to be a rejection of his proposal,” the suit said.

The lawsuit claimed that Matze was then “abruptly ousted in violation of the law and public policy.”

According to the suit, Jeffrey Wernick, the company’s chief operating officer, contacted Matze on January 28 and “threatened him with financial ruin” and an “avalanche of legal claims” if he did not immediately resign.

This was at the “clear and apparent direction of Mercer,” the suit said.

After Matze refused to resign, he was fired “without reason,” the lawsuit said.

Matze claims Parler stole his 40% stake

The lawsuit also accused the defendants of the “orchestrated theft” of Matze’s 40% stake in Parler.

The lawsuit said Mercer had told Matze that Parler should be valued at “at least” $1 billion, and that she knew Matze’s stake was worth “multi-million dollars.”

But the defendants told Matze after he was ousted that his 40% stake was only worth $3, the suit claimed.

Parler’s operating agreement allowed the forced sale and purchase of Matze’s stake, according to the suit. The suit said that the defendants shared out the 40% stake among themselves after Matze was fired – it didn’t specifically say how much Matze was paid.

“This scheme is epitomized by oppression, fraud and malice, for which Matze is entitled to punitive damages trebling (at a minimum) the millions that he is owed in compensatory damages,” the suit said.

The suit names Parler, Mercer, Wernick, interim CEO Mark Meckler, and right-wing personality Dan Bongino, who is accused of fabricating misconduct claims against Matze, as defendants.

Earlier this month, Parler filed a new lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that the tech giant had breached its contract with Parler when it took the site offline. The site is now back online with web host SkySilk.

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Why Andy Jassy should spin off the massively lucrative AWS after he becomes Amazon CEO, according to a former AWS exec

Andy Jassy
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy will face a number of tasks in his new post, including addressing the company’s lack of diversity within its leadership.

  • Amazon’s AWS executive Andy Jassy will take over as CEO from Jeff Bezos in Q3.
  • AWS is a hugely profitable part of Amazon’s business — but it could make sense for Jassy to spin it off.
  • Insider spoke to former AWS senior engineer Tim Bray about why there are “a bunch of good reasons” for Jassy to make the move.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Jeff Bezos’ successor as Amazon CEO, Andy Jassy, made his mark on the company by building its hugely successful cloud computing service Amazon Web Services (AWS).

But as CEO, Jassy’s best move might be to cut off AWS from the mothership, former AWS exec Tim Bray told Insider on Thursday.

Bray was an AWS vice president and distinguished engineer who worked at Amazon for five years before publicly quitting in May 2020. At the time, Bray published a blog post saying he was resigning in protest at the company firing warehouse workers who raised concerns about working conditions during the pandemic.

Bray, who reported to Jassy during his time at Amazon and praised his management in a quote to Insider’s Eugene Kim and Ashley Stewart, told Insider there were “a bunch of good reasons” for Amazon to spin off AWS.

“AWS has both higher growth and higher margin than the mainstream retail part of Amazon,” Bray said. Amazon’s Q4 earnings showed AWS accounts for 52% of Amazon’s operating income.

“I think the likelihood that AWS does get spun off is not trivial at all.”

Read more: The 3 biggest challenges Andy Jassy will take on as Amazon’s new CEO, according to experts

Jassy has said in the past that Amazon is not looking to spin AWS out – an understandable position, given what a money maker the division has become. But Bray said an increasingly hostile antitrust landscape, combined with business incentives, could make it a wise move.

Amazon’s continued expansion into different business sectors means AWS’ customers may increasingly also be Amazon competitors, and therefore Jassy might be reluctant to shovel lots of money into AWS in future, Bray said. “I think that in itself is a large and growing headwind for AWS and is not going to get any better,” he said.

It would be possible for Amazon to cut ties with AWS without totally sacrificing its cash-cow status, he said.

“You can imagine a maneuver where AWS does an IPO, does a cash payment to Amazon of 50 to 100 billion or something like that,” he said, citing an Economist article from June 2020 that gave AWS a “plausible” valuation of $500 billion.

This isn’t the first time Bray has said AWS should be spun off. He gave an impassioned speech to Amazon workers at a union conference in June 2020 about why governments should break up Amazon from AWS.

“Why on earth should an online retailer, a cloud computing company, a smart speaker company, an organic supermarket company, and a video production company all be conglomerated into one corporate entity controlled by one person?,” Bray said at the time.

Bray: Jassy could get ahead of regulators by spinning off AWS

Bray told Insider on Thursday that Jassy could spin off AWS before it starts to heap more regulatory scrutiny on Amazon.

“If [spinning off AWS] is going to happen, Amazon would be better off to do it under their own volition in a planned way as opposed to the Justice Department pointing a gun at their head.”

Bray said cloud computing could become a big target for lawmakers looking to rein in Big Tech, as the market is essentially dominated by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. As of Q4 2020, Amazon’s market share totalled more than Google and Microsoft’s combined, per data from analytics firm Canalys.

He said the wealth of Big Tech antitrust concerns gives Amazon some wiggle room. “It’s an issue, but I think there’s lots of other, hotter ones in the queue in front of it,” he said.

Google and Facebook’s ad business is the “biggest, softest target of all of them,” Bray said. Other big targets are Google’s wider business and Apple’s online services business, which is already starting to draw the attention of regulators both in the US and the EU.

Amazon is already under the antitrust microscope along with the other tech giants, but so far lawmakers have honed in on its marketplace business, and whether it unfairly disadvantages third-party sellers.

The antitrust pressure from Washington looks set to mount rather than wind down. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has become the new chair for the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, and has made it clear that Big Tech is in her crosshairs. On Thursday, she introduced a bill that would grant antitrust enforcement agencies sweeping new powers, including the ability to impose massive fines of 15% on companies’ annual revenue.

Bray said Jassy would have to navigate the ongoing “techlash,” and suggested that he may do a better job than Bezos.

“Jeff has obviously been an outstanding executive. Has he done a very good job of positioning the company in the public mind? Not really, I wouldn’t say. He’s not a gifted communicator to the public,” he said.

“Maybe Andy will do better at that, because I think they need that,” he added.

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Amazon says Jeff Bezos will be involved in ‘one-way door’ decisions in his new role – here’s what that means

Jeff bezos
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

  • Jeff Bezos will spend his time as Amazon executive chairman focusing on “one-way door” decisions.
  • Bezos defines these as big decisions that can’t be taken back — like walking through a one-way door.
  • Bezos will hand over day-to-day management of Amazon to AWS CEO Andy Jassy.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Jeff Bezos may be stepping down as Amazon CEO, but he’s not going anywhere – in fact, he’ll still be involved in major, “one-way door” decisions at the company. 

Bezos, 57, announced on Tuesday that in the third quarter of 2021, he’ll move into a new role as executive chairman of Amazon’s board. Andy Jassy, the current CEO of AWS, will take his place. 

“Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else,” Bezos wrote, adding that he’ll be focusing his time on his philanthropy, as well as the two companies he owns: the Washington Post and space company Blue Origin. 

Read more: Andy Jassy will be the next CEO of Amazon. Insiders dish on what it’s like to work for Jeff Bezos’ successor who built AWS into a $40 billion business.

But Bezos said that while he’s handing over day-to-day management of the company to Jassy, he’ll still be “engaged in important Amazon initiatives,” a sentiment Amazon executives echoed during a conference call following the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report on Tuesday. 

“Jeff is not leaving, he is getting a new job,” Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s chief financial officer, said during the call. 

“He will be involved in many large ‘one-way-door’ issues, as we say – ‘one way doors’ meaning the more important decisions, things like acquisitions, things like strategies, going into grocery and other things,” Olsavsky said. “So, Jeff’s always been involved with that and that’s where he’ll keep his time focused in his new role.”

Olsavsky added that Amazon is “very happy to see both Jeff and Andy get new perspectives” and that Jassy will have the opportunity to put his imprint on Amazon. 

Bezos has spoken in the past about “one-way-door” decisions. In his annual letter to shareholders in both 1997 and 2016, Bezos described his method of distinguishing between two kinds of decisions.

One type, he wrote, is like walking through a standard door: If you’re not happy with your choice, you can always walk back through it. The other type is a one-way door – it’s not reversible, so you have to be very careful about making that kind of decision, he wrote. 

But Bezos has also warned others against making too many “one-way-door” decisions.

“The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention,” Bezos wrote in 1997. “We’ll have to figure out how to fight that tendency.”

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A Seattle court rejected Parler’s legal effort to force Amazon to bring it back online

GettyImages 1230524224
Parler faces an uncertain future.

  • A Seattle court rejected Parler’s attempt to force Amazon to bring the network back online.
  • Judge Barbara Rothstein said Parler failed to demonstrate how the injunction would benefit public interest.
  • Amazon Web Services removed Parler on January 11 for violating its terms of service.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US District Court in Seattle rejected social network Parler’s effort to get back on Amazon’s web hosting platform.

Amazon Web Services removed Parler after the social network violated its terms of service due to an increase in violent content posted to the platform in the wake of the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6. Parler, a social network touted by conservative politicians and right-wing influencers, sued Amazon days later, claiming the move was politically motivated and anticompetitive.

Judge Barbara Rothstein said the court is not dismissing Parler’s claims at this time, but said the network failed to demonstrate how the injunction would benefit public interest.

“The Court explicitly rejects any suggestion that the balance of equities or the public interest favors obligating AWS to host the kind of abusive, violent content at issue in this case, particularly in light of the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol,” Rothstein wrote on Thursday. “That event was a tragic reminder that inflammatory rhetoric can-more swiftly and easily than many of us would have hoped-turn a lawful protest into a violent insurrection.”

Read more: Despite a historic inauguration, legendary investor Ellen Pao is not optimistic about tech’s relationship with the new White House

Parler’s user numbers surged following Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Donald Trump. The app went offline a few days later after removal from Amazon, as well as Apple and Google’s app stores.

Amazon told Insider’s Ashley Stewart and Eugene Kim the firm had been in conversation with Parler “for weeks” over lax content moderation for violent posts. In a counter-lawsuit filed last week, Amazon claimed it first contacted Parler representatives on November 17 to discuss violent content on the app.

“AWS was in conversation with [Parler] for several weeks before a group of Amazon employees voiced complaints,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “This decision was made based on content that incited and encouraged violence that violated our terms of service.”

Parler, founded by former AWS software engineer John Matze, is funded by Fox News contributor Dan Bongino and conservative investor Rebekah Mercer.

Matze said he felt “confident” Parler would be back online by the end of the month, despite getting rejected from at least six large web service providers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said he’s open to letting Parler back on the app store after improving content moderation.

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Amazon hits back at Parler’s antitrust lawsuit with extensive examples of its violent content, including death threats against Democrats, GOP, tech CEOs, and BLM

Parler logo
Amazon cited more than a dozen examples of content posted to the controversial social media platform Parler that it said violated Amazon’s policies.

  • Amazon responded on Tuesday to a lawsuit filed by Parler that accused the tech giant of violating antitrust laws by banning the controversial social media platform from using Amazon Web Services.
  • In its response, Amazon alleged that Parler violated its contract by refusing to remove more than 100 examples of violent content, including death threats against prominent Democrats, Republicans tech executives, and supporters of Black Lives Matter.
  • Amazon also cited Section 230 as part of its defense against Parler’s claims that Amazon conspired with Twitter to hurt Parler’s business by kicking it off AWS.
  • Major tech companies including Apple and Google cut ties with Parler this week amid revelations that far-right insurrectionists used the social media platform to organize and incite violence at the US Capitol.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon filed its response Tuesday to an antitrust suit brought against it by Parler, arguing that the social media upstart’s refusal to remove violent content from its platform violated its contract, and that Parler had failed to prove any antitrust claims. 

Parler sued Amazon on Monday after the tech giant booted the platform from its web-hosting service, Amazon Web Services, amid public outcry over Parler’s role in enabling far-right insurrectionists to organize and plan last week’s attacks on the US Capitol.

“This case is not about suppressing speech or stifling viewpoints. It is not about a conspiracy to restrain trade,” Amazon claimed in the court filing. “Instead, this case is about Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability to remove… content that threatens the public safety, such as by inciting and planning the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens.”

Parler did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Amazon cited more than a dozen examples of content posted to Parler that it said violated Amazon’s policies.

“We are going to fight in a civil War on Jan.20th, Form MILITIAS now and acquire targets,” one post said, according to the document, while another read: “White people need to ignite their racial identity and rain down suffering and death like a hurricane.”

Other Parler posts cited included death threats against prominent Democrats such as former President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

Parler users also took aim at people of color, Black Lives Matter activists, Jews, teachers, the media, and professional sports leagues including the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. 

Read more: Parler has been knocked offline for not moderating threats. Screenshots show what Capitol riot supporters posted before, during, and after the unrest.

“There is no legal basis in AWS’s customer agreements or otherwise to compel AWS to host content of this nature,” Amazon said, adding that it had notified Parler “repeatedly” beginning in mid-November 2020 about content that violated the terms of the two companies’ contract, but that Parler “was both unwilling and unable” to remove it.

Amazon also pushed back against Parler’s claims that Amazon’s actions were politically motivated and violated antitrust laws by deliberately favoring Twitter, which also uses AWS, and not taking similar action against it.

“AWS does not host Twitter’s feed, so of course it could not have suspended access to Twitter’s content,” Amazon said in the filing, noting that Twitter eventually blocked the violent content, while Parler refused to take similar steps.

Amazon also cited Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives companies that operate an “interactive computer service” the legal right to remove content as they see fit.

Read more: Inside the rapid and mysterious rise of Parler, the ‘free speech’ Twitter alternative, which created a platform for conservatives by burning the Silicon Valley script

Parler rose to prominence in recent months as mainstream social media sites have faced increasing pressure to crack down on hate speech, misinformation, and calls for violence.

Following the US presidential election in November, Trump supporters flocked to alternative social networks, including Parler, to plan election protests after Facebook and other sites banned groups that pushed baseless conspiracies. From November 3 to November 9, Parler was downloaded around 530,000 times in the US, according to data from Apptopia.

As a pro-Trump mob violently seized the US Capitol building on Wednesday in an attack that left five dead, the armed rioters used Parler and other conservative-leaning social media apps to organize. Apptopia told Business Insider that Parler downloads spiked to around 323% of their average weekly volume from October. 

But as revelations have emerged detailing how the insurrectionists leveraged Parler to carry out last week’s attacks, major tech companies have faced pressure to cut ties. Apple and Google both pulled the app from their app stores earlier this week, and Parler was forced to migrate its web hosting to Epik – a domain registrar known for hosting far-right extremist content – after being booted from AWS.

Expanded Coverage Module: capitol-siege-module

 

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Amazon’s decision to sever ties with Parler might not kill the controversial social media platform

Parler
Amazon Web Services will kick Parler off its platform on Sunday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.

  • Amazon will kick Parler off its web servers, leaving the controversial social network to scramble for a new web host.
  • Tech giants including Apple, Google, and Amazon have all recently backed away from Parler, an app that mainly appealed to far-right conservatives with limited content moderation.
  • Parler CEO John Matze said the site could be down for up to a week, as “we rebuild from scratch.”
  • “Probably not the end to Parler,” one disinformation expert told Insider. “They just have to find another server space.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Parler will be kicked off Amazon’s web servers early Monday morning, forcing the controversial social networking site to go dark for at least a few days. But experts say that it’s unlikely to be the end of the platform. 

Technology giants including Amazon, Apple, and Google have taken a flurry of actions against Parler since the insurrection at the US Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump supporters. While the actions are likely to lead to a decline in Parler ‘s popularity, experts said the app isn’t necessarily dead in the long-term.

“It is realistic to expect that Parler will find another provider to host their services like AWS,” Max Aliapoulios, a computer science Ph. D candidate at New York University focused on understanding and mitigating socio-technical problems like cybercrime and online extremism, told Insider in an email.

Read More: Amazon is removing Parler from its web hosting service

For instance, the fringe message board 8kun and the social media platform Gab both used Epik as a new host, Aliapoulios noted. 

“That being said, now the precedent is set and Parler will likely always have an uphill battle with finding a home to host them on the internet,” he added.

Kathleen Carley, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor studying disinformation, also agreed it likely won’t be the end of the network, but the decision will likely drive apps like Parler to the dark web and encrypted systems.

“Probably not the end to Parler,” Carley wrote in an email to Insider. “They just have to find another server space.”

Parler grew to prominence by cultivating far-right audience

Captiol Hill Protests
A protester holds a Trump flag inside the US Capitol Building.

In the past few months, Parler has attracted a far-right conservative audience by pitching itself as a social network with minimal content moderation. The network appeared to play a crucial role as a meeting place for many of the insurrectionists who ultimately stormed the Capitol on January 6 in a rampage that left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer.

After Twitter banned Trump’s account on Friday, some top conservative figures recently announced they would be moving to the Parler app and encouraged others to do the same.

Now, the future is uncertain for the once hot social app. While it may not be dead, Parler appears to be on life support by no longer appearing on the Apple or Google Play app stores and now being kicked off of AWS’ servers. Amazon said it will boot Parler off at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday. 

Apple and Google said the app didn’t do enough moderating. Parler users called for violence throughout the attempted coup in Washington, according to Insider reporters Margaux MacColl and Kevin Shalvey.

Parler said it was being unfairly targeted.

“This was a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the market place,” Matze said in a statement. “We were too successful too fast. You can expect the war on competition and free speech to continue, but don’t count us out.”

Plan to ‘rebuild from scratch’ could be a daunting task

Matze also said Parler could be offline for up to a week as “we rebuild from scratch.” It’s unclear what that would entail, or how reliant Parler was on AWS for cloud services and hosting. BuzzFeed News first reported Amazon’s decision to sever ties with Parler. 

“Getting booted off AWS is virtually unheard of; when people leave intentionally the planning takes months; execution can take years,” Corey Quinn, chief cloud economist at The Duckbill Group wrote on Twitter

Quinn said it takes time to move all the data from web servers, and other AWS offerings aren’t directly compatible with other servers. “Making what you built on AWS’s systems work elsewhere is super challenging,” he added. 

Moving to a new provider typically takes months or years. Parler received about 30 hours of notice, Quinn said.

The platform said it had about 4 million active users as of November.

Beyond the problems of finding a new host, Parler could also face the challenge of actually running a profitable business.

Read More: Terrified Pelosi staffers barricaded themselves in a conference room and huddled under a table as pro-Trump rioters ransacked the speaker’s office: Report

Aliapoulios noted that Parler had been planning for months to launch an influence network – “basically just a portal for advertisers and influencers to make money,” he added. 

“I think they may have a hard time finding enough companies, who want advertising on a site that is full of violent extremists, to offset the cost of their cloud provider bill,” Aliapoulios said.

But in the long-term, Parler may well survive given its existing popularity. Aliapoulios noted that other controversial sites like 8kun and Gab are still around. In fact, Gab said it was seeing a surge in demand over the weekend as other social media sites cracked down.

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