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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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."

Go deeper: Ex-Parler CEO says he didn't want Trump deal

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Feb 7, 2021 - Axios on HBO

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."

Feb 7, 2021 - Axios on HBO

“Axios on HBO” exclusive: Top labor leader hits Democrats

Coming up on "Axios on HBO" at 6 p.m. ET/PT: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka criticizes Joe Biden for costing American jobs with his Keystone pipeline decision and former Presidents Obama and Clinton for slighting unions. 

  • Also on the show: Ex-Parler CEO John Matze and Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg.
  • Catch the full interview and much more on Sunday, February 7 at 6 p.m. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

Home confinees face imminent return to prison

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Thousands of prisoners who've been in home confinement for as long as a year because of the pandemic face returning to prison when it's over — unless President Biden rescinds a last-minute Trump Justice Department memo.

Why it matters: Most prisoners were told they would not have to come back as they were released early with ankle bracelets. Now, their lives are on hold while they wait to see whether or when they may be forced back behind bars. Advocates say about 4,500 people are affected.