Kanye West is buying conservative social media platform Parler

The rapper formerly known as Kanye West has offered to buy right-wing social network Parler shortly after being banned from Twitter and Instagram for anti-Semitic posts.

Parler’s acquisition would give West, legally known as Ye, control of a social media platform and a new platform for his opinions without a gatekeeper. The question is who is listening?

Even among the new breed of largely right-wing, far-right, and libertarian social apps that purport to support free speech through looser rules and moderation, Parler’s user base is tiny — and competition is only picking up for the relatively small fraction of mostly elderly people who want to discuss politics online, there is no clear plan to expand it beyond a niche platform chasing the crumbs of mainstream social media.

If Tesla CEO Elon Musk goes ahead with his proposed purchase of Twitter, things could get even more complicated for Parler. That’s because Musk has already made it clear that he wants to relax Twitter’s content moderation rules and efforts, including restoring former President Donald Trump’s account. If the libertarian and far-right users who left Twitter—either because they felt it narrowed their political views or because they were kicked out—return, sites like Parler, Gab, and Trump’s Truth Social could end up losing users.

Parlement Technologies, which owns the platform, and West said Monday the acquisition should close in the fourth quarter, but details like the price weren’t disclosed. According to Parlement Technologies, the agreement includes the use of private cloud services via Parlement’s private cloud and data center infrastructure.

Parler restructured its business last month to create Parlement Technologies, which it says will become the “world’s leading free speech infrastructure and platform.” That means that rather than operating a single platform like Parler, the company wants to offer services to other niche websites that are often seen as too extreme for mainstream tech companies to support. It’s not clear if the deal with Ye was already in the works when Parler announced the reorganization in September, and Parlement did not immediately respond with a message for comment.

Ye was banned from posting on Twitter and Instagram a week ago for anti-Semitic posts that the social networks said violated their policies. In a post on Twitter, Ye said he will soon go “Death Cheat 3 vs. JEWISH PEOPLE,” according to Internet archive records, apparently referring to the US Defense Preparedness Scale known as DEFCON.

Ye has also suggested slavery is a choice, calling the COVID-19 vaccine a “mark of the beast.” Earlier this month he was criticized for wearing a White Lives Matter t-shirt with his collection at Paris Fashion Week.

“In a world where conservative opinions are considered controversial, we must ensure we have the right to express ourselves freely,” Ye said in a prepared statement.

Parler faces competition from other conservative platforms like Truth Social, which are also tiny compared to mainstream social media sites. According to Data.ai, which tracks mobile app usage, Parler had an average of 725,000 monthly active users in the US in the first half of this year. That’s down from 5.2 million in the first half of 2021. Overall, including people outside the US, Parler still hasn’t hit the 1 million mark in the first half of this year.

Truth Social, on the other hand, had 2.4 million monthly users over the same period, according to Data.ai, despite only launching in February and only on Apple devices. The market research firm said another right-leaning platform, Gettr, which launched in July 2021, is ahead of both Parler and Truth Social with about 3.8 million monthly active users.

None of them come close to Twitter, which reported that it had a daily average of about 237.8 million active users last quarter. Many of the right-wing platforms emerged from opposition to content moderation restrictions on mainstream services like Twitter and Facebook, but they have failed to attract users in large numbers.

One reason for this may be that most people don’t really want to discuss politics online. According to the Pew Research Center, a third of the tweets sent in the US are political in nature, but these are mostly sent to a small subset of mostly older people. While Americans ages 50 and older make up 24% of the US adult Twitter population, they produce nearly 80% of all political tweets, according to Pew. This is the audience Ye’s Parler would need to be wooing if the rapper is serious about expanding Parler’s user base.

Parler was launched in August 2018 but didn’t really pick up steam until 2020. It was taken offline in January 2021 for its links to the deadly US Capitol riot earlier that month. A month after the attack, Parler announced a reboot. It returned to Google Play last month.

“This deal will change the world and change the way the world thinks about free speech,” Parlement Technologies CEO George Farmer said in a prepared statement.