Kanye West is acquiring Parler, the alternative social media platform favored by many conservatives.
Parler’s parent company announced the deal Monday morning, saying West had “taken a landmark step into the media space of free speech and will never again have to fear being removed from social media.”
The acquisition comes after West, who legally changed his name to Ye, temporarily suspended his account from Twitter this month over an anti-Semitic tweet.
The exact terms of the Parler deal were not disclosed, although Parler said it has yet to reach a definitive agreement with West and expects it to be finalized in the fourth quarter. Parler’s parent company, Parlement Technologies, would remain involved by providing technical services and cloud support.
Buying Parler could make West the latest prominent social media platform owner after former President Donald Trump tried to woo Conservatives with Truth Social and Tesla CEO Elon Musk to take over Twitter. It also shows how a small group of wealthy men, some of whom have been banned or themselves suspended for making inflammatory statements, are attempting to own their own social media platforms in a bid to bolster what they call “free speech”.
“In a world where conservative opinions are considered controversial, we must ensure that we have the right to express ourselves freely,” West said in a Parler release.
As part of the announcement, Parler linked West’s account on the platform, which appears to have launched at the same time. As of early Monday, the account had around 500 followers.
For Ye, the deal comes at a particularly contentious time. West has made headlines in recent weeks for wearing a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt in public and his use of the slogan – a phrase the Anti-Defamation League has linked to white supremacist groups – as ” funny” defended Tucker Carlson to the Fox News host. Following the kit incident, apparel maker Adidas said this month that it was reviewing its partnership with West. In September, West also said he was exiting a two-year partnership with clothing retailer Gap.
In a speech on CNN Monday, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called Parler a “haven” of hate.
Founded in 2018, Parler experienced rapid growth around the 2020 election. The app, which poses as a loosely moderated free speech space, became popular with conservative politicians and media figures, reaching an estimated 2.9 million daily users, according to market research firm Apptopia. But since then, its fortunes have deteriorated, with Parler’s estimated daily user base dropping to just 40,000, Apptopia told CNN on Monday. (By comparison, Twitter has more than 237 million daily active users.)
In the weeks following the Jan. 6 riots, Parler was removed from both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store because the companies said they failed to adequately moderate violent rhetoric on the platform. Documents presented to the House committee investigating the Capitol riots have shown how the Secret Service was aware of posts on Parler that suggested the possibility of violence that day. Separately, Parler has written to Congress, claiming that lawmakers’ interest in the app’s role in the riots was aimed at making the app a “scapegoat.”
Parler has since been reinstated in both app stores after changes were made to its content moderation procedures.
Parler has faced increasing competition in recent months as the burgeoning right-wing digital media ecosystem has expanded. Truth Social launched in Apple’s App Store in February and was approved for Google’s App Store on October 13th. Truth Social saw a spike in downloads last week due to its appearance on the Google Play Store, Apptopia said, and before that it was hovering at 144,000 daily active users.
Musk’s move to buy Twitter if the deal goes through also has the potential to upend Parler and similar services. Musk has repeatedly called for lifting permanent bans and reconsidering Twitter’s approach to content moderation, which could make the much larger platform a home again for some of the users who have jumped to small services like Parler.
It could also mean that Musk and Ye, who are said to be friends, are now competing with each other. After Yes’s anti-Semitic tweet sparked an outcry, Musk said tweeted: “Spoke with you today and expressed my concern about his last tweet which I think he took to heart.”
A week later, Yes Deal to purchase Parler was announced.