Ye, the rapper and mogul formerly known as Kanye West, is planning to buy Parler. The deal will put yet another prominent conservative in charge of a social media service. The deal suggests, though, that the wars over controversial content are going deeper than apps, even as conservative sites try to build their own digital social ecosystems.
Parler, which touts itself as a free speech app that does a minimum amount of moderation, is popular among conservatives and right-wing users. Ye's move to acquire the service follows the suspension of his Instagram and Twitter accounts after he made anti-Semitic posts.
Parler's parent company, however, will be keeping the cloud firm it bought last month in what it said was a bid to power an "uncancelable" future. In other words, the company — which changed its name to Parlement Technologies when it made the cloud service acquisition — is leaving behind the conservative social media ecosystem that has mostly failed so far to challenge mainstream social media services. Instead, it's moving up the chain and going all in on digital infrastructure, even as cloud providers, cybersecurity vendors, app stores, and payments processors have become focuses of the conflicts over content that any future conservative-allied app will need to contend with.
Earlier in October, for instance, PayPal walked back a policy saying it would begin to fine users up to $2,500 for spreading misinformation, saying the document outlining the change was sent in error. The potential fines had enraged conservatives, who say liberal leaders at social media sites unfairly use policies against misinformation to shut down right-wing views and personalities. Major sites including Twitter counter that they don't moderate based on politics but instead try to focus on violence, harassment, and subversion of democracy.
Before that, in September, Cloudflare had booted Kiwi Farms, dooming the site known for violent anti-trans bigotry. Credit card companies also prompted OnlyFans to consider abandoning its pornographic creators last year.
For many conservatives, though, Parler itself is the poster child for the risk they face if they don't control the digital infrastructure that keeps their companies running smoothly. Several Parler users participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The deadly riot was part of then-President Trump's attempt to subvert U.S. democracy and stay in power. In its wake, both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store banned Parler for violating rules requiring apps to engage in basic content moderation. AWS followed suit, although the mobile OS providers eventually relented after Parler agreed to changes.
When it bought a cloud company, Parler's parent company made clear that it was getting into the business to make sure it would have a say in digital choke points by "building out what will become an entire ecosystem to … help amplify free speech platforms.”
Those ambitions are likely far in the future. Parlement didn't detail how much it paid for the cloud company, but said at the time it had raised $56 million in all its funding rounds. (Ye didn't disclose how much he plans to pay for Parler, either.) By contrast, AWS brings in more than 100 times that amount in a single quarter.
Ye's move and the pivot for Parlement are arriving right as Elon Musk appears poised to complete his deal for Twitter and scale back what he views as excessively liberal moderation policies there. The Google Play Store also recently approved Trump's Truth Social app, a competitor to Parler, although the service is facing significant financial difficulties.
Together, the moves mean that increasingly prominent figures will be at the helm of widely available platforms that either appeal to conservatives or are trying to bring them back on, even as right-wing social media remains relatively niche. There's ample room for conservative social networks to grow, joining the decades of runaway success by right-wing radio and TV, as well podcasts and livestreams in recent years.
Such a shift would upend the hope of early social media that everyone of all political stripes would gather in one place. And to pull it off, it might well require conservatives, sooner or later, to have a firm grip on more than just apps.