On Sunday, ProPublica published an interactive database that lets users sift through a trove of videos taken during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and uploaded to Parler, the social network popular among supporters of President Donald Trump that was dropped by its web host Amazon earlier this month. We also published an analysis piece about the videos by Alec MacGillis.
Since Parler was terminated by Amazon for its inaction on posts that encouraged and incited violence, we want to explain why we are reviving a subset of this material and why we believe it’s in the public interest for people to see the events of Jan. 6 as documented by, and from the perspective of, Parler users.
First, a few details on the origins of these videos and how we chose which we’d present.
Before Parler went offline, a loose confederation of programmers archived a huge cache of publicly available information from the service before it disappeared indefinitely. One of the programmers, who requested anonymity because of personal safety concerns, downloaded more than 1 million videos that had been posted to Parler — nearly all the videos ever uploaded to the service, according to the programmer.
Using technical data extracted from the videos by the programmer, ProPublica identified roughly 2,500 that were most likely to be footage of the Capitol riot, based in part on when they were captured and their proximity to the building.
ProPublica staffers then reviewed each one taken on Jan. 6, setting aside those that actually weren’t taken near or in the Capitol or didn’t capture anything newsworthy or relevant to what happened there on that day.
That left the more than 500 videos we’ve included in the database, which, together, provide rich new detail to our understanding of this infamous moment in American history.
While providing what might be the most comprehensive record assembled in one place for a historic event of this magnitude, the Parler trove falls well short of being complete: For example, ProPublica has so far only found one video from inside the Senate or House chambers, although news organizations have published photographs of rioters in those rooms holding their phones out as though they were shooting videos.
The videos from Parler range in intensity, from frenetic, violent snippets of people clashing with police near the inaugural platform and rioters demanding to be led to the House chamber where the joint session of Congress was being held, to more prosaic clips of crowd members milling around, far from the action.
A number of the videos capture threats to harm lawmakers, and a handful catch the kinds of behavior — smashing windows, assaulting police — that has led to criminal charges against dozens of people. It is not yet clear if law enforcement officials used the Parler videos to identify suspects, though the programmer says the FBI has access to the material.
Parler attracted an audience that skewed hard to the right, including some who came to the service because they believed Twitter was biased against conservatives. The videos reflect their grievances, their paranoias and, in some cases, their imperviousness to facts. More than one participant says without providing evidence that “Antifa” infiltrated the protest and was responsible for the violence, a claim disproved by many other videos, as well as the subsequent arrests.
The users who posted the videos likely had in mind an audience of like-minded followers on a small social network. Some in the videos perform and boast for the camera, even turning the lens on themselves to do so.
“These were publicly available,” said Claire Wardle, co-founder of First Draft, an organization that specializes in combating online misinformation, “but Parler isn’t Facebook. Are these people performing for their community? They are making decisions about where to angle their phones. When they are pointing their camera, what are they leaving out, what are they including? Don’t forget what isn’t in the frame.”
Seeing the videos assembled together changes what viewers can understand from them, added Jeremy Kutner, ProPublica’s general counsel.
“We believe that presenting this large group of videos is not only undeniably in the public interest but that collecting them in this way is the essence of a transformative fair use under the copyright law,” Kutner said.
Since ProPublica was founded, we have believed in the power of primary source material, and data, as evidence. We’re releasing this material so that people who weren’t on Parler, and who can’t write code or easily navigate digital archives, can take stock of it.
“The thing that happened at the Capitol was bigger than any person or organization,” the programmer told us. “And more eyes are better than fewer.”