Parler Play: Is Ye Bailing Out a Failing Social Media Company?
In the days after the deal, there have been immediate signs of trouble.
Earlier this week, the conservative-leaning social media network Parler announced that Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, had agreed to purchase the company.
“In a world where conservative opinions are considered to be controversial we have to make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves,” Ye said in a press release. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The announced purchase represented a union of two very controversial entities. Parler has been synonymous with political extremism and was even removed for a time from both the Apple and Google App stores because of how it was used by participants in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. And Ye has in recent weeks made news for a series of anti-semitic comments, which got him locked out of his Twitter and Instagram accounts.
“This deal will change the world, and change the way the world thinks about free speech,” George Farmer, Parler’s CEO, said in the release. “Ye is making a groundbreaking move into the free speech media space and will never have to fear being removed from social media again. Once again, Ye proves that he is one step ahead of the legacy media narrative. Parlement will be honored to help him achieve his goals.”
But in the days after the deal, there have been immediate signs of trouble. Politico reported Thursday that on the very afternoon that the deal was announced, an email was sent to “VIPs” of Parler. But those responsible for sending it neglected to take security precautions.
“Parler neglected to blind-CC email addresses and inadvertently revealed the contact information of at least 10 lawmakers and many more conservative stars. The other problem: some of those ‘VIPs’ had no clue why they were being labeled as such, confessing that they had little to no association with the controversial app, let alone special status there,” Politico said.
The email not only exposed the email addresses of those included but also led to some included on the list distancing themselves from Parler. Additionally, Parler’s user base is small. Ye himself created an account that has 29,000 followers, Politico said, a tiny fraction of the rapper’s 31 million followers on Twitter.
Eric Wilson, of the Republican campaign technology investment fund Startup Caucus, told Politico of his skepticism about conservative social networks. The problem is that most people don’t go on social media to discuss politics only and that platforms like Twitter offer a lot more than just political discussion.
And so these concentrated networks of people who want to talk about politics are essentially creating a “choir room,” he said. “This idea of a conservative-only political social media network is not going to take off … and I wish these entrepreneurs and investors would put their money into more effective projects.”
There’s another aspect of the Parler deal with West that some observers have found suspicious: Ye is aligned politically with the conservative commentator Candace Owens, who is married to Farmer, Parler’s CEO. This indicates that perhaps the deal is more about Ye bailing out a failing business venture than in any of the stated reasons for his wanting to buy such a company.
“Baffling that so many news stories about the acquisition are missing this context. This is why the news desk needs to talk to its beat reporters for these stories,” writer and extremism researcher Jared Holt said on Twitter. “The headline is that Owens used her friendship with Kanye to offload a dying platform. Not another celeb tech buy!”
The Verge indeed reported this week that Parler’s parent company had been trying to offload the product for a while now and that another potential buyer had judged the asking price as “wildly inflated.” In addition, that story reported that Parler has only 50,000 daily active users, a very small amount. The company had also this year launched an NFT marketplace called DeepRedSky, which had sold only three of its signature tokens.
Techdirt, on Wednesday, made a similar argument about the deal.
“So the deal with Ye is not to buy the company, but to unload the flop of a social media platform that has very few users left as the market for ‘Twitter-but-for-assholes-removed-from-Twitter’ was already pretty small, and is now divided between way too many platforms: Parler, Gab, Gettr, Truth Social, and some other wannabes,” Techdirt wrote.
“Put all that together, and this really seems like an opportunistic Parlement taking advantage of Ye, who is upset about his treatment on Instagram and Twitter, who has money to burn, and was talked into taking on this albatross of a failed social media platform to pretend to be creating a site for ‘free speech.’”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.