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Kanye West to buy the conservative-friendly social site Parler

Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, has entered into an agreement to purchase Parler, a social media site popular with Trump loyalists, the company announced on Monday.

The surprise move comes days after Twitter and Instagram locked Ye's accounts over a series of antisemitic posts that were widely condemned.

Parler, which calls itself the "pioneering uncancelable free speech platform," characterized the restrictions Twitter and Instagram placed on his accounts as censorship, arguing that Parler's more hands-off approach to content moderation ensures that all voices can be heard.

"In a world where conservative opinions are considered to be controversial, we have to make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves," Ye said in a statement.

In practice, though, Parler has been a hotbed of vaccine misinformation, bigotry and right-wing conspiracies — content that usually does not expressly violate Parler's guidelines.

Parler is the social media site of the Nashville-based parent company Parlement Technologies. It did not disclose how much Ye has agreed to purchase the social media site for, nor were any other terms of the acquisition revealed. Parler officials said the deal is expected to close by the end of the year.

Parler has been installed on phones 11.7 million times, and it has about 40,000 daily active users, according to data from analytics company Apptopia. Twitter, by comparison, has 237 million daily active users, according to its latest quarterly earnings.

On Monday, Ye created an account on Parler, where he has more than 8,000 followers.

From Paris Fashion Week to Tucker Carlson, Ye's latest controversies

Ye, whose musical career and apparel line has made him a billionaire, is a frequent and often erratic user of social media. In recent weeks, Ye has been on something of a controversy bender.

He landed in hot water earlier this month for wearing a t-shirt that read "White Lives Matter" at Paris Fashion Week. The Anti-Defamation League considers the slogan hate speech.

In unaired snippets of a interview he did with Tucker Carlson on Fox News that were recently released by Vice, Ye espoused various antisemitic conspiracy theories. And he confounded many when he asserted in the footage that "professional actors" had been placed in his house to "sexualize" his children.

Politically, Ye has been a longtime Trump supporter, and he remains an ardent fan of the former president. An outspoken critic of cancel culture, Ye frequently denounces what he sees as to the over-policing of free speech in society.

That anything-goes ethos is a hallmark of Parler, which has had a turbulent history since its inception in 2018.

Deplatforming, a management shakeup, and a return

During the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, hundreds of videos of the siege were posted to Parler, which in the leadup to the violence had become a gathering place for far-right activists angry over Trump's election loss.

Parler's failure to remove violent and hateful posts following the Capitol riots led to Amazon severing the social media site from its web-hosting services, prompting a protracted legal battle and the abrupt firing of its former CEO John Matze.

Matze's messy departure was the result of a standoff between him and Rebekah Mercer, the Republican mega-donor and Parler co-founder, over how the platform should address inflammatory content, sources close to the matter told NPR at the time.

Parler suffered an additional blow when Apple and Google removed the service from their app stores for violating their terms of service. Apple said it found posts that "encouraged violence, denigrated various ethnic groups, races and religions" and "glorified Nazism."

Since then, however, Parler has committed to better monitoring hate speech and violence on the site, leading Apple and Google to welcome the app back on their app stores.

Parler is competing in a crowded space of "alternative" social media sites, with a bevy of conservative-friendly platforms attempting to siphon users away from dominant social media sites controlled by Big Tech in favor of apps with fewer guardrails on speech.

Among them are Rumble, a YouTube clone backed by billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel; Gettr, a service similar to Twitter founded by former Trump adviser Jason Miller; and TruthSocial, another Twitter rival founded by former president Trump.

Ye's proposed purchase of Parler comes as Twitter grapples with its own ownership saga. Elon Musk and Twitter remain locked in dizzying negotiations and legal battles regarding his pending purchase of the platform, and the Tesla and SpaceX chief executive has vowed to relax Twitter's content moderation rules.

In a statement announcing Ye's expected acquisition, Parler CEO George Farmer predicted that the deal would have a far-reaching impact on online speech.

"Ye is making a groundbreaking move into the free speech media space and will never have to fear being removed from social media again," Farmer said. "Once again, Ye proves that he is one step ahead of the legacy media narrative."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.