This morning, Kanye West announced that he is buying Parler, the annoying so-called “free speech” platform that ignores the correct French pronunciation of its name in the service of a bad pun. The deal terms aren’t here yet, but the startup has raised $56 million so far and I bet it’s got a neat little exit on its hands if this goes through.
A rejected billionaire buying a social networking company for alleged violations of their freedom of speech (where there are none) seems… somehow known. Oh, that’s right: Elon Musk is essentially doing the same thing, on a larger and more contentious 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 over anti-Semitic posts. However, Kanye was quick to use Twitter to spread more anti-Semitic trash, leading to his account being locked and Musk subsequently weak admonition (if you can call it that) for his friend’s unforgivable behavior.
Aside from the fact that Musk’s response is a terrifying picture of what moderation could become on Twitter if the multi-CEO gets his wish and completes the $44 billion transaction to acquire the platform, the interaction and Parler news from Monday a lot about where we are social and the state of the media technology industry. In particular, watching these two overpaid and too spoiled guys spend their way to “uncashable” status illustrates a lucrative new exit path for startups looking to disrupt the status quo when it comes to getting people to say things they don’t. should say.
It used to be that billionaires had a tantrum that resulted in the death of Media outlets, but the new trend doesn’t seem to be trying to destroy the object of their anger, but instead spend boatloads of money to distort a collective social point of view that fits their particular worldview. Whether that money is their own, or the collective wealth of their fawning retinue of deep-pocketed sycophants, hardly matters—there are many economic opportunities to be had for clunky networking tools with flexible moral prospects.
This is only half an irony: There are really a lot of startups and companies that have sprung up to tackle the social media companies that are allowed to “checking what we can and cannot see”, as an extremely wrong ex-attempt to despot put it. In a healthy market, they would have to compete over the measures we typically use to assess a startup’s success: traction and user engagement, revenue, etc. Now it seems they could use a bruised ego to help their investors to repay the fund.