Kanye West is acquiring Parler, the alternative social media platform favored by many conservatives.
Parler’s parent company announced the deal on Monday morning, saying West had made “a groundbreaking move into the free speech media space and will never have to fear being removed from social media again.”
The acquisition comes after West, who has legally changed his name to Ye, had his account temporarily locked by Twitter this month over an antisemitic tweet.
Exact terms of the Parler deal weren’t disclosed, though Parler said it must still enter into a definitive agreement with West and expects to close in the fourth quarter. Parler’s parent, Parlement Technologies, would remain involved by providing technical services and cloud support.
Buying Parler could make West the latest celebrity owner of a social media platform after former President Donald Trump’s bid to win over conservatives with Truth Social and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s proposed acquisition of Twitter. It also highlights how a small group of wealthy men, some of whom were banned or suspended themselves for incendiary remarks, are looking to own social media platforms in an effort to bolster what they call “free speech.”
“In a world where conservative opinions are considered to be controversial we have to make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves,” West said in a release by Parler.
As part of the announcement, Parler linked to West’s account on the platform, which appeared to have launched simultaneously. As of early Monday, the account had roughly 500 followers.
For Ye, the deal comes during a particularly controversial period. West has made headlines in recent weeks for wearing a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt in public and defending his use of the slogan – a phrase the Anti-Defamation League has linked to white supremacy groups – as “funny” to Fox News host Tucker Carlson. After the shirt incident, the apparel company Adidas this month said it was reviewing its partnership with West. In September, West also said he was abandoning a two-year partnership with the clothing retailer Gap.
Speaking on CNN Monday, Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, called Parler a “haven” of hate.
Parler was founded in 2018 and saw rapid growth surrounding the 2020 election. Billing itself as a loosely moderated free-speech haven, the app became popular with conservative politicians and media figures, peaking at an estimated 2.9 million daily users, according to the market research firm Apptopia. But since then, its fortunes have dimmed, with Parler’s estimated daily user count slipping to just 40,000, Apptopia told CNN on Monday. (Twitter, by comparison, 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 for what the companies said was a failure to adequately moderate violent rhetoric on the platform. Documents provided 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 surrounding that day. Separately, Parler has written to Congress claiming that lawmakers’ interest in the app’s role in the riots has been intended to “scapegoat” the app.
Parler has since been restored to both app stores after making changes to its content moderation practices.
Parler has faced more competition in recent months as the burgeoning right-wing digital media ecosystem has expanded. Truth Social launched in February on Apple’s app store, and was approved for Google’s app store on Oct. 13. Truth Social saw a spike of downloads last week due to its appearance on the Google Play Store, Apptopia said, and before then had been 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 eliminating permanent bans and rethinking Twitter’s approach to content moderation, which could once again make the much larger platform a home for some of the users who jumped to small services like Parler.
It could also effectively mean that Musk and Ye, who are said to be friends, are now competing with each other. After Ye’s antisemitic tweet sparked an outcry, Musk tweeted: “Talked to ye today & expressed my concerns about his recent tweet, which I think he took to heart.”
One week later, Ye’s deal to buy Parler was announced.