today is Nov 30, 2022

In the latest in a month-long string of questionable business decisions (like terminating a partnership with Gap) and delighting racists (wearing a “white lives matter” shirt at Paris Fashion Week with conservative commentator Candace Owens), Kanye West is reported to be purchasing the struggling conservative social media app Parler, where Owens’ husband is CEO.

West and Parler announced on Monday morning that the rapper would be purchasing the platform for an undisclosed sum, at an undisclosed date. The partnership could see West trade his microphone for a small, quiet echo chamber.

West, who has flirted with rightwing causes in the past, has spent the past weeks getting locked out of social media platforms after making anti-semitic comments, like tweeting that he was “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” The lockouts make West an ideal candidate for Parler, which since its 2018 launch has billed itself as an alternative platform for outcasts from larger social media sites.

That user base is overwhelmingly conservative, with members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys making the site their home during the 2020 election season. During the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the site was a dumping ground of real-time footage from inside the rotunda, as Parler users uploaded their exploits. Soon after the attack, Apple and Google removed Parler’s app from their stores, and Amazon stopped providing the site with web services. It returned to Apple’s store last year, and Google’s last month, after agreeing to new content moderation policies.

But its membership has not returned to full force. Since Jan. 6, multiple right-wing social media sites have vied to become the new Twitter. None have been particularly successful—especially not Parler.

Data from the traffic-monitoring site Similarweb, first reported by writer Jay McKenzie, shows Parler receiving a lackluster 1.3 million monthly visits. That’s a fraction of the web traffic of other conservative Twitter clones like Gab or Truth Social. Parler did not immediately return a request for comment on its monthly visitor rate.

The site continued outreach to users by sending texts advertising things like “15% OFF We The People Wine.”

Other web analytics suggest that Parler is less of a public square and more of a tumbleweed-filled parking lot. Analysis on the SMAT app, which tracks keywords on rightwing sites, showed Parler lagging behind Truth Social, Gab, and Gettr for posts containing common terms like “Trump,” “America,” and “freedom.”

On Sept. 21, the last day for which SMAT data was available, Parler users appear to have authored seven posts referencing “freedom” and 66 referencing “Trump.” On Truth Social that day, there were 149 posts containing the word “freedom” and “2,253” on Trump, according to SMAT.

And even those higher figures represent a small fraction of America’s online audience. A report from the Pew Research Center this month found that just 6 percent of Americans “regularly get news” from the alternative social media sites BitChute, Gab, Getter, Parler, Rumble, Telegram, or Truth Social. Of those sites, Parler had the highest name recognition (38 percent of respondents had heard of it), but bottom-tier use (just 1 percent of respondents regularly used Parler for news).

Parler’s current CEO George Farmer took over the company last spring, following a period of turnover in its top ranks. Farmer is married to Owens, with whom West recently posed in “white lives matter” shirts. Farmer is also a former candidate for the U.K.’s Brexit Party.

Although Parler membership numbers are reported to have plummeted post-Jan. 6, under Farmer’s stewardship the site continued outreach to users by sending texts (“Parler Alerts”) advertising things like “15% OFF We The People Wine” and “Melania Trump’s first Limited Timed Edition NFT” [sic].

In an email to Parler users on Monday, Farmer declined to describe the deal but said West’s purchase of the ailing site would help make it “uncancelable.”

“Ye’s acquiring of Parler will strengthen our ability to create an uncancelable ecosystem. No one should have to self-censor out of uncertainty about which legal speech will get him or her banned,” Farmer wrote.

Kanye joined Parler on Oct. 12, his account on the site shows. As of midday Monday, several hours after news broke of his supposed acquisition, he had approximately 5,000 followers. He follows one account (an official Parler page) and has never posted.

The deal drew parallels to a similar bid by Elon Musk to buy Twitter earlier this year. Despite protracted public haggling and an ongoing court battle, the deal has yet to close, raising questions about the likelihood that Musk will ever own the social media site.

But even without closing, Musk’s reported acquisition of Twitter sent shockwaves through the site, sending its share price into dramatic fluctuation and leading to a surge of sign-ups from conservatives (and deactivations from liberals) immediately after the deal was announced in April. Likewise, even an aborted effort by West to buy Parler could bring a desperately needed breath of life to the floundering site.