Kanye West is acquiring the libertarian-leaning social network Parler, the company announced on Monday, just days after his Instagram and Twitter accounts were temporarily locked for a spate of posts that were criticized for being anti-Semitic.
“In a world where conservative opinions are considered to be controversial we have to make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves,” said musician and fashion designer West, now known as Ye, in a statement released by Parlement Technologies, which operates Parler. The company did not disclose the value of the deal.
Parler, which calls itself an “uncancelable free speech platform” was established in 2018 but rose to prominence in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when it became a haven for users who were banned from the mainstream social media platforms for spreading hate speech and disinformation. The platform was temporarily taken offline in early 2021, shortly after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol building, when Apple, Google and Amazon all withdrew their support for it, citing its lack of content moderation. Many on the political right saw the removals as a sign of rising “cancel culture” and censorship by Big Tech companies.
Parler is a micro-player in the social media space. Its user base has plummeted since its time in the spotlight in early 2021, according to estimates from analytics firm data.ai. It now has less than a million monthly active users, compared to more than 6 million in the first half of 2021. Twitter, by comparison, has 238 million daily active users. Facebook has nearly 2 billion.
Although the platform’s user base is currently relatively small, West’s acquisition of Parler could have implications for Twitter if Elon Musk goes through with his on-again off-again $44 billion acquisition of the platform. It suggests that Musk—who has echoed Republican talking points by saying he plans to roll back Twitter’s restrictions on free speech— may have competition from another celebrity provocateur who is prepared to lean even further rightwards.
West, who has bipolar disorder, has often made headlines for his controversial behavior. He has expressed support for former President Donald Trump in the past, but ran against him in the 2020 election. West has pursued various business ventures by partnering with well-known brands in the past—bringing his dedicated fans as new customers to more staid older companies. Some of those brands have severed ties with West in recent weeks due to his controversial public statements. Adidas said it was reviewing its partnership with West following his appearance at Paris fashion week wearing a “white lives matter” T-shirt. In September, JPMorgan said it would end its relationship with West and his clothing brand Yeezy. West has also said he is ending his relationship with Gap, accusing the fashion retailer of stealing his designs.
In early October, shortly after the “white lives matter” T-shirt controversy, West shared a screenshot on Instagram of a conversation between him and rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs, in which he suggested Combs was being controlled by Jewish people. After he was suspended from Instagram for the post, he sent a tweet saying he would go “death con 3 [sic] On Jewish people.” The tweet prompted Twitter to temporarily suspend his account.
Musk publicly interacted with West in the aftermath of the controversy. After West was suspended from Instagram, he tweeted an image of himself and Mark Zuckerberg referring to their past friendship and asking how the Meta CEO could “kick me off Instagram.”
Musk then replied to West’s tweet. “Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!” he wrote.
The billionaire and Tesla CEO added in a subsequent tweet that he had spoken to West about his anti-Semitic outburst. “Talked to ye today & expressed my concerns about his recent tweet, which I think he took to heart,” Musk said.
A verified Parler account in West’s name was opened on Oct. 17, the day his acquisition of the platform was announced. At the time of publication, it had less than 600 followers.
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