Kanye West is buying Parler, the company said Monday, cinching a deal for the right-leaning social media platform that has struggled to regain its momentum, days after the musician was restricted by Instagram and Twitter over antisemitic posts.
“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 statement Monday.
The acquisition comes at a time when the social media market is becoming crowded — and increasingly controlled by prominent individuals with strong political and business sensibilities. Tesla billionaire Elon Musk has sought to buy Twitter, one of the leading social media sites. Trump’s media company operates the tumultuous Truth Social, and one of his former aides, Jason Miller, launched competitor Gettr last year.
These alternative sites have blossomed in the wake of the 2020 election, following years of complaints from conservative politicians and pundits who have accused the large social media companies of “censoring” their views, though often without offering real evidence.
Ye was locked out of both his Twitter and Instagram accounts earlier this month for violating user rules. Screenshots of his since-removed tweet show that Ye had said he would go “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE,” an apparent reference to Defcon, the U.S. military defense readiness system.
George Farmer, chief executive of Parlement Technologies, said the Parler deal came together within the last week.
“And the reason being, Ye is very concerned about Big Tech censorship,” Farmer said, pointing to the artist’s restrictions on Instagram and Twitter. “He has the means and wherewithal to obviously move into this space quite aggressively.”
Farmer is married to conservative commentator Candace Owens, who recently appeared with Ye at a Paris fashion show wearing shirts emblazoned with the words “White Lives Matter.” Owens, who recently released a documentary criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, also addressed Ye’s tweet that led to his restrictions on her Daily Wire podcast.
“If you are an honest person, you did not think this tweet was antisemitic,” she said. “You did not think he wrote this tweet because he hates or wants to genocide Jewish people.”
Ye has long used social media as a tool to air personal and political grievances, as well as make controversial and offensive claims. He has received wide acclaim for his music career and his fashion partnership with Adidas — which is now under review — but has drawn backlash for his support of Trump and his headline-grabbing comments. In 2018, he said on TMZ that slavery was a choice, and in 2020, he disparaged abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Jewish groups condemned his latest antisemitic comments.
Still, Parler is hoping the power and popularity of Ye’s brand will give it a needed boost. The website has trailed many of its competitors in terms of monthly viewers, according to data from Similarweb, a digital analytics firm that tracks and estimates website traffic. Parler’s monthly visits have plunged 83 percent this year, compared with the same period in 2021, the Similarweb’s data shows.
The data also shows Parler had 1.25 million visits on desktop and mobile web in the month of September.
And Ye has had success influencing popular culture — his Adidas-Yeezy collaboration generates an estimated $2 billion a year in revenue.
Farmer said Parler has 16.5 million registered accounts and picks up 50,000 to 100,000 new users each month. He declined to disclose how much Ye — who has a net worth of $2 billion according to Forbes — is paying for the site or how he is financing the deal.
“We need his marketing presence, we need his marketing power,” he said of the deal, which is expected to close later this year.
It remains to be seen whether Ye’s ownership will deliver a broader user base to Parler. Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said it might push away supporters who don’t agree with conservative viewpoints, especially in the polarizing political climate.
“If you align yourself with this type of ideology, you’re definitely saying ‘I’m okay with alienating the other half,’” he said.
Ye told Bloomberg News that he bought the site after being restricted by Twitter and Instagram. “We’re using this as a net for the people who have been bullied by the thought police to come and speak their mind,” he said in the Monday interview.
Parler started building a name for itself in 2020 as a friendly gathering spot for conservative politicians and pundits, including those who were turned off by moderation policies at leading social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It gained millions of users in the weeks after the 2020 election, which Trump and many of his followers falsely insist he won.
But the platform that billed itself as a free-speech haven with minimal rules also became a popular place to share conspiracy theories about the election. The app was effectively kicked offline in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when Amazon blocked it from its web-hosting service, and Apple and Google removed its app from their online stores, citing its inadequate content-moderation systems.
Parler found a way back online several weeks later. Its relaunch, including an executive shake-up, was orchestrated by founding investor Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of major Republican donor Robert Mercer, sources told The Washington Post last year. Farmer said Mercer remains a company shareholder.
But Parler has yet to reclaim the momentum it had in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election.
“They never recovered — they could have come back from deplatforming stronger than ever, but there were many self-inflicted wounds,” said a person familiar with the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss business decisions.
The company now faces competition from the smattering of “alternative” social apps that have sprung up to try to take on Facebook and Twitter, including Truth Social, owned by Trump Media & Technology Group, as well as Rumble and Gettr.
Many of these apps were created, in part, in response to the content moderation common on the dominant social media sites — policies that many conservatives equate with censorship.
Such platforms have long faced pressure to clamp down on those who use their sites to peddle offensive material that is hateful or threatening to groups based on race, religion and other factors. The apps say they use moderation to try to keep violence, harassment and other rule-breaking posts off the sites.
In his pursuit of Twitter, Musk has said he wants the platform to promote “free speech.” He also has spoken against the site’s ban of Trump after the Jan. 6 riot.
In a statement, Parler said the partnership with Ye “ensures Parler a future role in creating an uncancelable ecosystem where all voices are welcome.”
Parler has its own content moderation policies — partly because it had to utilize some to get back on the Apple App Store. Parler’s community guidelines do not allow illegal content, and they say the company prefers that “removing users or user-provided content be kept to the absolute minimum.”
Ye has not said whether he plans to change the content moderation process or guidelines. “In the long-run, of course, he can create rules,” Farmer said.
It’s unclear exactly what role Ye will take at the company — Farmer said he is expected to be “hands-on completely.” Farmer will stay on as chief executive of the parent company.
Drew Harwell and Bryan Pietsch contributed to this report.