Kanye West, Elon Musk and the uncertain promise of a new internet for conservatives |  CNN Business

Kanye West, Elon Musk and the uncertain promise of a new internet for conservatives | CNN Business

New York
CNN Business

A week ago, Kanye West was temporarily suspended from Twitter for posting anti-Semitic tweets. Now the rapper has agreed to acquire Parler, an alternative social platform popular with conservatives, to avoid having “to worry about being taken off social media again.”

West, who has legally changed his name to Ye, is just the latest controversial figure to bet on a nascent, alternative set of social media platforms favored by conservatives and far-right members who profess to be outraged. by moderating content on more mainstream services.

After being banned from Twitter following the Jan. 6 uprising, former President Donald Trump backed Truth Social, an alternative to Twitter. In a slideshow, Trump’s digital media company touted the ambitious possibility of creating not only alternatives to major social media platforms, but also cloud computing products like Amazon Web Services and payment service Stripe.

Separately, Peter Thiel, an influential venture capitalist and Republican donor, has invested in Rumble, a conservative alternative to YouTube. Other services, including Gab and Gettr, are also part of what Ben Decker, CEO of digital threat analytics firm Memetica, calls an “alternative social media ecosystem,” powered by “the platform of conservative personalities from high level’ of other major platforms in recent years.

There are a range of potential reasons why West – an erratic figure known for his chaotic business dealings – may have wanted to acquire Parler, a platform that has been home to election denial, anti-Semitism and adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory. He was likely frustrated by the removal of his anti-Semitic comments from Twitter (TWTR) and Instagram, and the permanent suspension of the latter. West is also friends with conservative political commentator Candace Owens, who is said to have encouraged the rapper’s political involvement and whose husband is the CEO of Parler.

In a statement attached to the Parler Monday announcement, West alluded to the need for a different and safe space for conservatives, a camp he identifies with. “In a world where conservative views are seen as controversial, we need to make sure we have the right to express ourselves freely,” he said. West also discussed his plan to take over Talking With Trump, a source familiar with the conversation told CNN on Monday, though it’s unclear whether the two spoke to each other before or after the news broke. rapper’s acquisition has been made public.

But insofar as he is serious about the acquisition, which remains highly unclear, West faces an uncertain path that mirrors the challenges for other services promising unfettered “freedom of speech.”

To begin with, the audience of these alternative platforms remains much lower than that of the mainstream services they are in competition with. Even if Parler’s estimated 40,000 daily active users followed West on the platform, his audience would pale in comparison. to the 31.4 million followers he has on Twitter, not to mention Twitter’s more than 200 million daily active users.

And despite claiming to provide an unrestricted home for fringe content, some services, including Parler, have had to make concessions on content moderation to be allowed on major app stores. Apple said last year it had approved Parler’s return to the iOS App Store following improvements the company made to better detect and moderate hate speech and incitement, and Google did the same last month. But even with App Store endorsements, big marketers tend to avoid running ads alongside content that even smacks of controversy.

Perhaps the biggest wildcard of all comes from West’s friend and erratic wealthy sidekick, Elon Musk. Tesla’s billionaire CEO seems closer than ever to taking over an already established platform, Twitter, with plans to reduce its content restrictions. (Following the announcement of Parler, Musk tweeted, and later deleted, “funny times ahead!” with a meme showing the smiling faces of the two men superimposed on a cartoon.)

Various regulations and business interests may prevent Musk from fully committing to letting everything stay on Twitter, the same way he did to Parler and others. But it might not take much for right-wing users, including influencers, to return to Twitter. Musk said he would restore Trump’s account to the platform; and while the former president has said he’ll stick with Truth Social, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t at least be tempted to go back to Twitter’s much bigger bullhorn.

Shares of the investment vehicle meant to publicize Trump’s social truth tumbled when Musk first announced plans to buy Twitter, and fell again earlier this month when Musk relaunched his proposal to buy it. Similarly, Rumble, which only recently went public through a similar route, saw its stock drop recently when Musk declared the deal back.

Many right-wing figures who have championed alternative platforms have applauded Musk’s plan to take over Twitter, a sign that they might abandon their dedication to a right-wing social media ecosystem if a more traditional platform was ready to welcome them back. Radio personality Joe Rogan – who previously discussed a move to Gettr – said in a text message to Musk in April: “I REALLY hope you get Twitter. If you do, we should be throwing one hell of a party.

Social platforms are appealing in large part because they enable conversations and connections between many different types of people. With alternative conservative platforms, many users may be discouraged by the echo chamber. “If you go to these platforms, there’s a conversation going on,” said Darren Linvill, a Clemson University professor who studies misinformation and inauthentic behavior on social media. Conservative users uninterested in politics may also avoid alternative platforms because of other objectionable content they host, according to experts who study the space.

Political talk aside, many of these platforms also suffer from technical issues and poor user interfaces. Unlike their main rivals, these new services lack sufficient resources to solve these problems. That could only make it harder to compete with a Musk-owned Twitter.

“Elon Musk could buy Twitter and say, ‘Trump, you’re back, Kanye, you’re back,’ and then Kanye is stuck owning a relatively outdated and somewhat irrelevant platform,” Decker said. “The question is going to come down to how serious Elon Musk is about all of this.”

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