This morning Kanye West announced he’s buying Parler, the annoyingly named so-called “free speech” platform that ignores the proper French pronunciation of its moniker in service of a poor pun. The deal terms aren’t out there yet, but the startup has so far raised $56 million and I bet it has a tidy little exit on its hands if this goes through.
A spurned billionaire purchasing a social networking company because of perceived encroachments on their free speech rights (where none actually exist) seems… somehow familiar. Oh, that’s right: Elon Musk is doing basically the same thing, on a grander and more litigious scale.
Elon and Kanye have history, of course, and the Tesla founder was quick to welcome Ye back to Twitter when the latter was blocked from Instagram for antisemitic posts. Kanye quickly used Twitter to push more antisemitic trash, however, leading to him having his account locked and Musk then issuing a weak admonishment (if you can even call it that) for his pal’s inexcusable behavior.
Leaving aside that Musk’s response is a terrifying vision of what moderation on Twitter could become if the multi-CEO gets his wish and does complete the $44 billion transaction to acquire the platform, the interaction and Monday’s Parler news say a lot about where we are socially and the state of the media tech industry. In particular, watching these two over-moneyed and over-indulged boys spend their way to “uncancelable” status illustrates a lucrative new exit path for startups looking to disrupt the status quo when it comes to letting people say things they shouldn’t say.
It used to be that billionaires having a temper tantrum would result in the death of media outlets, but the new trend seems to be not attempting to quash the object of their ire, but instead spending boatloads of cash to warp a collective social viewpoint to fit their specific worldview. Whether that money is their own, or the collective wealth of their fawning retinue of deep-pocketed sycophants scarcely matters — there’s a lot of economic opportunity to be had for down-on-their-luck networking tools with flexible moral outlooks.
This is only half tongue-in-cheek: There really have been a lot of startups and companies cropping up to address the social media companies being allowed to “control what we can and cannot see,” as one extremely mistaken ex-attempted despot put it. In a sane market those would need to contend on the measures we typically use to judge startup success: User traction and engagement, revenue, etc. Now, it looks like they might be able to use a bruised ego to help their investors return the fund.