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“Out poked two antennae”—crafting an insect-based dinner party

This is the same feeling all those Blue Apron customers get, right?Jason Plautz
Update: It's T..

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This is the same feeling all those Blue Apron customers get, right?Jason Plautz

Update: It's Thanksgiving in the US, meaning most Ars staffers are working on mashed potatoes and only mashed potatoes today. With folks off for the holiday, we're resurfacing this culinary classic from the archives—a look at a true evening of entomological entertaining. This story first ran in May 2016, and it appears unchanged below.

The boxes at my door were plastered with red drawings of bugs and the blunt warning: “Live Insects.” I could hear audible scratching and shuffling—and even what I thought was an errant “chirp”—as I placed them on my kitchen counter.

I slowly opened the first lid. Out poked two antennae, followed by the head of a cricket. I lifted the lid higher and saw dozens of them hopping around. Inside the second box, a thousand mealworms wriggled over an egg crate.

The first ingredients for my dinner party had arrived. Gagging slightly, I moved the boxes to my fridge.

In Western culture, eating insects is most commonly treated more like a stunt than a trend. Think of the dares on Fear Factor or of the gross-out twist in Snowpiercer when the poor find out theyve been fed smashed insects. In other countries, however, insects arent uncommon in tacos or stir fry; sometimes theyre eaten straight out of the bag like potato chips.

“We have in Europe and North America a culture that leads to a lawsuit when you find an insect part in food. Its ridiculous,” said Tom Turpin, a professor of entomology at Purdue University and a bug chef.

But slowly, entomophagy—eating insects—is catching on. In a 2013 report, the United Nations recognized that, given the food demands of a booming population, insects presented a “significant opportunity.” High in protein but with a small carbon footprint, insects seem like a “superfood at a time of increasing scrutiny on the sustainability of the food chain.

In the US today, protein bars and cookies can be baked with cricket flour. High-end chefs like Jose Andres and Rene Redzepi serve up grasshoppers and ants. It may soon be possible to keep a small bug farm in your kitchen, fed only by food waste—and then empty the critters directly into a pan for dinner.

Of course, all this progress continues to run into one small problem: bugs give people the creeps. So to cross that psychological barrier and embrace the food of the future, the recipe is clear. I would make a bug-based dinner of my own and actually convince my friends to eat it.

The first hurdle

I already had a passing familiarity with entomography thanks to Exo, a line of protein bars made with ground-up cricket flour that helped fuel several months of marathon training. My bug-based dinner party would have to go much further than that—well get to those live mealworms in a bit—but cricket flour seemed a good place to start.

It turns out this is exactly what the bars creators had in mind.

“If the idea of consuming insects is a challenge already, we need to get [people] over the hurdle in a form thats recognizable and approachable,” said Kyle Connaughton, a California chef and Exos head of R&D.

Connaughton first worked with insects while at Englands Fat Duck, which hosted a Victorian dinner featuring roasted crickets injected with sauces. Thats not exactly mainstream, but a protein bar is already a regular part of many peoples lives.

Exo chose deliberately non-exotic flavors for its bars, things like peanut butter and jelly or cocoa nut. The packaging emphasizes just how much protein each bar contains: 40 crickets worth. Each cricket has about twice the protein, by percentage, as beef jerky and just under three times that of chicken.

As the "chicken of the bug world," crickets would feature prominently in this meal.
Enlarge / As the "chicken of the bug world," crickets would feature prominently in this meal.Jason Plautz

Crickets have been described as the “chicken of the bug world”—ubiquitous, easy to cook, providing a good base for other flavors. Since crickets are a popular pet food, the infrastructure for mass production already exists, though not every farm raises food-grade crickets (that is, grown in a manner safe for human consumption and big enough to make them worthwhile).

As an added bonus, Connaughton said, the protein from cricket flour just tastes better than conventional whey or soy protein, which is usually masked with sugary vanilla or fake chocolate. Crickets have an earthy flavor on their own, but Connaughton said that roasting and drying them before grinding brings out “reactive flavors” that deepen the flours taste (like the difference between a roast chicken and a boiled one).

Decades ago, sushi was popular in Japan, but it just wouldnt catch on in America—until a Los Angeles restaurant wrapped up crab and avocado and called it a “California roll.” Exo hopes that cricket bars can do the same for bugs.

If protein bars arent your thing, cricket flour is expanding into more foods. Bitty, a New York-based retailer, now offers up cookies and biscuits made with cricket flour. Portland, Oregon-based Cricket Flours sells oatmeal blends with crickets and has partnered with the chain Wayback Burgers to sell a cricket chocolate milkshake.

Considering all this, cricket flour felt like a good way to ease my dinner party guests into the meal. I ordered a box of Exo bars and a bag of cricket flour from Bitty, which promised that it could be swapped into any baked-good recipe. I added both to my growing list of ingredients.

Listing image by Jason Plautz

See your food

It may seem counter-intuitive; not everyone wants to disguise the “bugginess” of bugs by grinding them into flour.

“I want to help people get over that oh gross, bug thing, so bugs are always going to be prominently displayed in my recipes,” said David George Gordon, a cookbook author who markets himself as The Bug Chef. “I wanted people to be aware of what theyre eating.”

Gordon, while excited about the industry growth potential of products with cricket flour, doesnt believe that normcore is ultimately the best way to go. Rather than crickets (“for whatever reason, theyre considered cuter”) or mealworms (“that name is a detriment”), hed like to see more imaginative bugs served up. Bugs like… giant centipedes.

“Ive got a great recipe, you just have to remove their genitals before serving… thats a lot more work than just adding some flour,” he said.

When I asked what hed choose as a birthday treat, he responded quickly. “A big bowl of deep-fried tarantula,” he said. Gordon compares it to crab.

For my dinner party, therefore, I needed to diversify away from the crickets and mealworms I had already ordered. I eventually found Bug Vivant , an El Paso-based distributor that hopes to make bugs more accessible. Founder Meghan Curry will even go down to Mexico to pick up insects that are more popular there.

“So far weve had really good luck bringing stuff over the border; nobodys stopped me yet,” she said optimistically.

Curry—who did a two-week climb of Yosemites El Capitan fueled only by insects—said that the insect industry has grown dramatically since she first got involved in 2013.

“Even from just a year ago, its a whole different landscape,” she said, estimating that theres a new startup every month in the US alone. Shes organized a semi-regular teleconference called “EnthoCall” where people are hatching plans to form a trade association, to set industry standards, and to create bigger-scale production systems.

When we spoke, Curry happened to have some more interesting bugs for sale. I ended our conversation by buying a bag of gusanos, a worm you might find at the bottom of a mescal bottle, along with some chapulines, a Mexican grasshopper eaten as a snack.

Despite all the chefs high praise, when the chapulines showed up sealed in a freezer bag, I must admit… I had a serious “oh crap, these things are going in my mouth” moment.

Scientifically speaking, you may not want to watch the kitchen prep tonight.
Enlarge / Scientifically speaking, you may not want to watch the kitchen prep tonight.Jason Plautz

Gross vs. greenhouse

Theres a reason cricket meal is more appealing to most eaters than looking at a bunch of actual bugs, wings and thoraxes and all.

According to Eric Hamerman, an Iona College professor, thats how were hard-wired to react. One of the dimensions of disgust (yes, disgust is more nuanced than Inside Out would have you believe) makes whole animals tough to stomach.

“Animal reminder disgust reminds people of their own animal nature, that we are animals in a physical shell,” Hamerman explained. “Steak is called steak, not cow, and it doesnt look like a cow, so you can separate that from eating an animal. But a raw insect—you can tell thats an animal youre eating.”

Hamerman recently published a study in the journal Appetite that found that the mere mention of “cooking” helped people volunteer to eat bugs. Knowing that the animals would be transformed through the cooking process helped some people make the psychological leap past disgust.

But subjects who were more sensitive to “core disgust”—the “threat that stems from oral consumption of offensive items”—still wouldnt go for the bugs even when primed to think about cooking. That problem, Hamerman said, will be harder to address.

“Think of eating a fish with eyes on it. In cultures where thats the norm, Im guessing its a very different response than it would be here,” Hamerman said. “Theres sensitivity to disgust and then theres the types of food that trigger that sensitivity. And it has a lot to do with culture.”

Supporters hope that the environmental benefits can help people overcome such disgust reactions. The food and agriculture sector ranks third in global greenhouse gas emissions, behind power production and transportation. With the worlds population projected to hit nine billion by 2050, well need more food than ever. Plus, rising temperatures can make that food more difficult to grow in many places.

That has put the spotlight on meat. A 2013 report from the UNs Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that livestock account for 14.5 percent of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, while mainstream American practices, like using soy and wheat for feed, make it worse.

Bugs, by contrast, dont emit harmful gases directly, and they use far less feed and water. According to the FAO, crickets use six times less feed than cattle and twice as much as pigs for the same amount of protein (although a recent University of California study has said some of those estimates might be overstated). Heres how a well-known entomophagist described it to the New York Times Magazine in 2008: “Cows and pigs are the SUVs; bugs are the bicycles.”

Meeru Dhalwala, the co-owner and chef at several Indian restaurants in Vancouver, British Columbia, said that reading that quote got her thinking about how to bring insects into her restaurant. By the summer of 2008, she had debuted a cricket flatbread.

But, she said, her interest didnt stop at sustainability.

“There are all these foodies who are into food intellectually but not emotionally,” she said. “Intellectually, its this great hipster food thing… but it doesnt matter if it doesnt taste good.”

Dhalwala spent months testing the crickets before settling on a blend of Indian spices like cumin that accentuated, rather than disguised, their natural flavors. For a sequel, she put a cricket pizza on the menu of a now-closed Seattle restaurant.

“The flavor was out of this world, let me tell you, but women were so squeamish about it,” Dhalwala said. She even got hate mail after the dish appeared; she recalled one reading, “Youre serving whole bugs. Whats next, mud from Haiti?”

In the food world, perception matters. If Exo bars are a vending machine snack, Indian-spiced cricket pizzas are a fancy lobster dinner. Theres a belief that, to make insect foods normal, the higher end of the market is just as important as the lower end. After all, lobster itself was once seen as so abundant and disgusting that businesses in the early Massachusetts colonies had to sign contracts limiting how many times they could feed it to their servants.

If bugs can make the leap to four-star dining, they might one day become just as prized.

With that in mind, I asked Dhalwala for some dinner party advice.

“Food is like a blind date, and you want to put your best foot forward,” she said. “Food is the most important thing that connects so many aspects of life, and our choice of food is whats hopefully going to save this planet from catastrophe. So make it look beautiful.”

Then she added, “Oh, and dont worry about the poop. With active bugs, their poop is clean. If you see a little bit, seriously, dont worry about it.”

Pie may need a thin top layer, hmm.
Enlarge / Pie may need a thin top layer, hmm.Jason Plautz

Prep time

It was time to cook.

Most of my cooking involved garlic. Lots and lots of garlic. Turpin, the Purdue entomologist, had semi-jokingly told me, “You have to get people over their negativity, and everything tastes good with garlic and white wine sauce.” Its a not-so-dirty secret that most bug dishes are either fried or just drenched in deliciously strong flavors.

I was braced for revulsion but surprisingly felt no qualms about cooking the bugs. I had frozen my box of live insects, having read that was the most humane way to kill them. Once thawed, the dead mealworms were soft and squishy but easy to handle. The crickets were firm and, tossed with olive oil and garlic, I could roast them just like Brussels sprouts. Straight out of the oven, they tasted just as good—crispy and with a pleasant burnt flavor that comes from browning.

I slid the gusanos into the oven to dry out for an hour, filling the kitchen with an unexpectedly sweet and smoky aroma. While they roasted, I sautéed the grasshoppers with onions and chile peppers. As I cooked, any remaining queasiness slipped away, and I munched on worms and grasshoppers as I worked.

Cricket snacks for the chef.
Cricket snacks for the chef.Jason Plautz

But whether others would feel the same was the real test. So on the appointed Saturday night, with The Beatles playing (get it?) in the background and with a setting of matching dishes (the true sign of a classy meal among 20-somethings), I served my skeptical girlfriend and two very patient friends a dinner designed to mirror the culinary rollout of insects.

First up, a small appetizer: spicy corn fritters made with cricket flour. As promised, the flour did have a unique flavor; an almond-like smell wafted out of the bag as soon as I opened it. The natural taste of the powder complemented the cornmeal nicely, creating a richer flavor than your average corn fritter (the kick of the jalapeno didnt hurt).

To drink, I laid out margaritas with a buggy twist. I ground up the roasted gusanos and mixed them with salt to put around the rim of the glasses for a sweet, smoky flavor.

As we began to eat, none of my guests had any complaints about the presence of bugs in their food, and the fritters especially were a hit. But the bugs had been invisible up to this point. The next course, I knew, would be a challenge.

I served my chapuline and onion mixture in tacos with guacamole, trying to mirror the way bugs might be served in Mexico. Seeing the whole chapulines—each about the size of a thumb—poking out of the tortillas got everyone giggling nervously. But they proved to be delicious, offering a nice crunch with a flavor masked by the chilis.

“Its like when you eat a taco and its messy so you have to push the filling backRead More – Source

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Apple Christmas sales surge to $111bn amid pandemic

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Apple sales have hit another record, as families loaded up on the firm’s latest phones, laptops and gadgets during the Christmas period.

Sales in the last three months of 2020 hit more than $111bn (£81bn) – up 21% from the prior year.

The gains come as the pandemic pushes more activity online, fuelling demand for new technology.

Apple now counts more than 1.65 billion active devices globally, including more than 1 billion iPhones.

Apple’s gains follow the release of its new iPhone 12 suite of phones, which executives said had convinced a record number of people to switch to the company or upgrade from older models.

The firm said growth in China – where the pandemic has already loosened its grip on the economy – was particularly strong, helped in part by demand for phones compatible with new 5G networks.

Sales in the firm’s greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, jumped 57%. In Europe, sales roles 17%, and they rose 11% in the Americas.

“The products are doing very well all around the world,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer. “As we look ahead into the March quarter, we’re very optimistic.”

Analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said he thought the firm was just at the beginning of a “super-cycle” as Apple devotees finally trade in old phones, coinciding with upgrades to telecommunications networks.

“With 5G now in the cards and roughly 40% of its ‘golden jewel’ iPhone installed base not upgrading their phones in the last 3.5 years, [Apple chief Tim] Cook & Co have the stage set for a renaissance of growth,” he wrote.

Big Tech is having an exceptionally lucrative pandemic.

It’s hard not to be wowed by some of these figures.

That Apple recorded more than $100bn in sales in just three months is simply astonishing.

Facebook figures are also well up on where they were last year.

As other companies have struggled to survive, Big Tech has flourished.

There are other reasons for some of these incredible figures. Certainly it seems iPhone enthusiasts were holding out for the new 5G enabled iPhone12.

But it’s not just Apple and Facebook, all of the massive tech companies are having a bumper year.

Covid-19 means people are spending more time indoors – buying things online, watching things online and chatting online.

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that these companies are posting record breaking figures.

But others point to these figures as yet more evidence that Big Tech has become too big to fail.

These figures are impressive. But they also attract the attention of politicians who are increasingly asking difficult questions – like are these tech mega companies operating in a market that is fair and with enough competition?

Facebook Apple feud

Apple said profits in the quarter reached nearly $28.8bn, up 29% compared with the same quarter last year.

The gains seen by technology firms like Apple contrast with losses hitting many other economic sectors, as the virus restricts activity and keeps shoppers at home.

Other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Facebook, have also enjoyed strong growth.

Facebook on Wednesday said increased online shopping during the pandemic helped lift ad revenue in the quarter by 30%.

The number of people active on its apps – which also include WhatsApp and Instagram – also rose to 2.6 billion daily, up 15% compared to 2019.

It said ad spending could slow as the Covid crisis relaxes and shopper appetite returns for services like travel rather than products.

It also warned that plans by Apple to change how it shares user data could weigh on growth.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55835504

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The Spanish YouTuber who made €1 million in a week

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“YouTube needs people to spend all day watching videos,” says Romuald Fons, an entrepreneur and YouTuber, with 721,000 subscribers to his channel on how to get websites rated in Google’s top search results.

Fons, 43, from Barcelona, knows all about YouTube. He spent two years maneuvering his channel into position and analyzing other channels to see what works best. His most viral video wasn’t even related to digital marketing – it was about how he got a six-pack in six months. “It was an experiment,” he explains to EL PAÍS from his office in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood.

In December, he put all his advice in a course called CreceTube, which he sold for a week for €700 as a special introductory offer. Around 1,500 people bought it, according to the documents Fons showed to EL PAÍS, earning him over €1 million in seven days.

Attention-harvesting algorithms that promote extreme viral and extreme content are the subject of growing controversy. YouTube is one of the main platforms accused of pushing users into ever more radical political positions by promoting increasingly outrageous videos to keep them hooked.

But this is not Fons’ field of concern. “YouTube’s algorithms can be hacked,” he says. “It’s not like Google [YouTube and Google are owned by the same company, Alphabet]. Google has to show the user what they want to find because otherwise, they will stop using it. YouTube promotes clickbait [content designed to drive traffic to a website] in an extreme way.”

His course is for people who are starting out on YouTube and want to grow their audience. It includes tricks with names like SEOshock, Instaclick and SEOcreto to improve video content and rankings – if you type “YouTube course” into Google and YouTube, Fons’ videos are in the top results. “I’ve bought every course there is and I explain things that have never been explained,” he says. “We explain how to use Google so you know what type of content to create.” Among the comments on the course, there are, of course, users who think it’s a scam, and have created their own YouTube videos with their own explanations. But Fons is unfazed: “Clickbait is what you have to do,” he says.

Neither is Fons concerned about the Spanish YouTubers who make off to Andorra for tax reasons. “It’s not my place to give my opinion on what they do,” he says. “I am not strictly a YouTuber. I am an entrepreneur who has a YouTube channel. It is different. In my case, the money coming in is part of the business. I generate wealth in Spain and will continue to be taxed here. I don’t have that option [to go to a tax haven]. If I wanted to do that I would have to take advantage of legal loopholes and I’m not going to.”

Fons’ main global competitor is the Briton Neil Patel, who has 100,000 more subscribers than Fons but fewer total views despite having posted more videos. Forty percent of Fons’ audience is in Latin America – YouTube provides YouTubers with this kind of data in the form of graphs. “It has one that shows the average retention of all YouTube videos of the same length as yours,” he says. “If your video is above average, it promotes you.”

Rags to riches

Fons’ recent success is the latest step forward in a long, and not always successful, career in digital marketing that started in earnest in 2013 when he decided to specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) – the name given to strategies to increase website traffic from search engines. Today SEO is a basic tool for most companies with digital interests: businesses that do not appear on page one of Google’s results, do not exist. Now, as Fons points out, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that even long-established businesses have had to close their doors if they have failed to devise a digital strategy.

In January 2013, Fons did nothing but create websites in order to get them to show up in Google searches, place ads on them and attract hits. The first month, he created 10 websites and made €2.48. He could be forgiven for feeling discouraged.

But, the self-taught Fons plowed on. In order to learn which criteria Google rewarded in its results, he ended up creating 1,430 websites. Each one had something different. “I was seeing which ones worked well and which ones didn’t,” he says. “I started to create my own positioning strategy.”

The choice of sites was not random. He looked for the ones that had the most searches and paid the most for ad clicks: “Paella, Inem courses [courses run by the National Institute of Employment], outlets,” he says. “For recipes, I had the 220 keywords with the most traffic: mojitos, baked chicken….” Fons wrote the content for each page and used Adsense, a Google tool, to fill the pages with ads. When someone clicked, Fons earned money. Within a year, he was earning €1,500 a month. In 2016, three years after starting out, he was making more than €18,000 a month.

Put like that, it sounds easy, but Fons scarcely made €1,300 in the whole of 2013. At the time, he was living in Spain’s Valencia region and was making a living by writing texts at night for €4 each for the website, Fiber.

Fons’ story is typical of a tech entrepreneur – he’s had several failures, has fully committed to getting better at what he does, has made a video that leads to something new and has put in long working hours. His first failure was as a student and musician. After enrolling to study architecture, he left university to go on a six-year tour as a singer of a band called Rembrandt42, which is still on the music-streaming site Spotify. He met his ex-wife during a concert and, subsequently settled down to a job at a family-run water treatment company. “We were cleaning legionella tanks,” he recalls.

But Fons had big dreams. “I wanted to do like [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg and blow things apart,” he says. First, he created a social network for collectors, called Nakoko. “It wasn’t much of a start-up,” he says. “It was just me putting all my work and money into it. I went totally broke.” After that, he tried to set up a Spanish eBay, called lovende. “I got even more broke,” he says. “When I couldn’t even afford to pay for my son’s optional vaccinations, everything changed. They cost €80 and I didn’t have the money. That’s when I stopped blaming others.”

During this period, he had, however, learned something about SEO and digital marketing. Then he saw a video of entrepreneur Pat Flynn, who was earning passive income from Google. “I thought, if this guy can do it, so can I,” he says.

“Companies would call me and ask me why I was being ranked above them,” he says. “That’s when I set up the agency.” After two years of quietly carving his own niche, he began to make a name for himself. Now, his business BIGSEO Agency, has a staff of 41. Each client pays him more than €30,000 a year for his services. In 2020, his company had a turnover of €4 million.

Thanks to his own personal journey, Fons has been able to observe the evolution of SEO. Google has always aimed to be the gateway to the internet. If the search engine didn’t work well, users would not be using the site millions of times a day. According to Fons, typing in the keywords is no longer enough. Google should also know whether someone searching for Nike sneakers wants to buy a pair for running or is an Air Jordan collector. “It’s about understanding the user’s intent even if the keyword isn’t there,” he says. “Whether the search is for boilers or cheap flights, the question is – what’s the problem?” Google will reward whichever website knows how to answer this best. “Getting customers for boilers is no longer about positioning ‘boiler service’ in Google,” he clarifies.

As a YouTuber, Fons has been a public figure with an impact on thousands of people. His community of followers is called Marketing Furious and they have a Facebook page with 75,000 members. That has also led him to address mental health issues that members of his community are increasingly open about. “Our brains are not wired to absorb thousands of opinions about us a day,” he says. “YouTuber El Rubius is under brutal pressure. But over a thousand people have paid me more than €700 to teach them something. The pressure is cranked up. Your subconscious gets the better of you. You think you’re strong and you can do it, but you can’t.” Fons has also encountered angry followers out and about. “When you have millions of views, anything can happen,” he says. “Think of a full Barça [soccer] stadium; 100,000 people. I’m sure there are 10 that are nuts.”

Fons is focused on video survival in an era when the apps TikTok and Instagram Reels are taking off. In his favor, his old videos keep popping up at the top of digital marketing searches. “On the other networks, you make a video and after eight hours no one sees it,” he says. “You can reach an audience, but turning it into a business is another matter. TikTok is all about short attention spans.”

 

Read from source: https://english.elpais.com/science_tech/2021-01-22/the-spanish-youtuber-who-made-1-million-in-a-week.html

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Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler

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Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.

Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.

But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.

Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.

On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”

Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.

While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.

It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.

However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.

Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?

By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring

For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.

As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.

This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.

In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.

Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.

Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.

However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.

This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.

In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.

“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”

Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.

It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.

Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.

But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”

“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”

In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.

The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.

“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.

“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”

The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.

“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55598887

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