Today
Sun 17 January 2021

A former Conservative and Brexit Party MEP, now giving business advice to the Government, told his followers to invest in a now-inaccessible social media platform accused of harbouring the alt-right

A business and trade advisor to the Government told his Twitter followers to “buy shares” in controversial social media platform Parler, just a few days before it became inaccessible.

Posting on Twitter on 8 January, Lance Forman reacted furiously to the news that Twitter had permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account. The social media platform released a statement, saying that the action was designed to avoid the US President from inciting violence akin to the scenes on Capitol Hill last Wednesday, when protestors attempted to mount an insurrection against Congress.

Forman called the ban “disgusting” and reported optimistically on the prospects of rival site Parler – which Trump hastily joined following his Twitter prohibition.

“Twitter’s action will be Parlers [sic] making,” Forman tweeted. “Buy shares in Parler NOW!”

“All Trump followers will follow him there and so will everyone else to find out what he’s saying.”

Forman launched a Twitter poll to see whether people shared his acrimony over Trump’s ban, with 52.6% of 1,132 people saying that the social media platform was right to dump Trump.

In additional irony yesterday – three days after Forman’s tweets – Parler dropped offline, with Amazon Web Services (AWS), the platform that was hosting it, terminating its account.

AWS said it took action after finding dozens of posts on the platform that were inciting violence. Parler is now suing the tech giant – claiming that it has breached anti-trust legislation. It is expected to be offline for a period of days, if not weeks, while it finds a new website host.

Parler was co-founded in 2018 by Rebekah Mercer – daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer – whose family has invested heavily in alt-right politics, piling money into the disgraced and defunct big data firm Cambridge Analytica and Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

It bills itself as a “a non-biased free speech driven entity”, yet numerous journalists have pointed out that the platform is heavily frequented by the alt-right, with prominent members including pro-Trump activist Candace Owens, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, ‘Proud Boys’ founder Gavin McInnes and former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.

As New Statesman writer Sarah Manavis pointed out last June, when the platform was gaining notoriety: “It’s easy to find anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and pro-conspiracy theory hashtags and, though community guidelines do exist, the repercussions of breaking them appear to be non-existent… Parler exists as an echo chamber for hard-right views.”

In an exchange with Byline Times, Forman said that he had “no idea” about claims that Parler is simply a haven for extreme views. He said that he joined the platform a few months ago but has only used it a couple of times. “If it was a haven for the far-right, it would be a bit pointless,” he said. “Who needs a talking shop? People need to engage with those they don’t agree with.”

Contrary to Forman’s suggestions, it is also not possible to buy public shares in Parler, as the company is not publicly traded – though it would be possible to negotiate a private sale of shares with current investors. Responding to Byline Times, Forman acknowledged this fact and said it “wasn’t a serious piece of investment advice”, but said that Twitter’s declining share price shows he might have been right.


Forman and Friends

All of this is a bit awkward, considering the Government’s little-known appointment of Forman as a trade advisor.

Indeed, on 4 January, the Department for International Trade (DIT) announced the updated membership of its trade advisory groups – which bring together public and business leaders in various sectors to lend their “strategic and technical expertise” to the Government.

Forman sits on the agri-food group, under the auspices of his role as owner and CEO of family business H. Forman and Sons – a smoked salmon firm.

No stranger to politics, Forman succeeded in winning election to the European Parliament in May 2019 as a Brexit Party candidate, though defected from Nigel Farage’s party to the Conservatives in December that year, in order to support Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.

Forman has a long-standing association with Johnson. While serving as the Mayor of London, Johnson opened the new headquarters of H. Forman and Sons in Hackney. Johnson’s Government also gave a batch of free advertising to Forman’s firm, while promoting its Brexit preparations.

In November 2019, the firm was criticised for hosting a public meeting of Turning Point UK, a British offshoot of the pro-Trump youth group. Forman defended the decision to host and participate in the event, claiming that the group is “simply a forum to empower students who believe in free markets and capitalism with the freedom to speak out and not be bullied by the intolerant left on campus”. Forman’s son is the CEO of Turning Point UK.

Aside from being invited to participate in the DIT’s trade advisory meetings, Forman has also participated in one-on-one meetings with Government ministers over recent months. Records show that he met with Trade Policy Minister Conor Burns on 22 January 2020 to discuss exports and, on 2 March 2020, met with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss to discuss trade policy.

The DIT has a history of appointing people in the political orbit of the Conservative Party to official roles. In December, Byline Times revealed that the former vice-chair of the Conservatives – also the business partner of Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg – had been appointed to the department’s non-executive board.

Forman said that his membership of a trade advisory group did not preclude him from being outspoken on current affairs. “If it had, I would not have joined,” he told Byline Times.


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