The views that got him kicked off Twitter will continue to exist online
Freud gave us the return of the repressed. Now, with Kanye West’s agreed purchase of Parler, we have the comeback of the cancelled. After Google and Apple pulled Right-wing social network Parler from their stores following the January 6 riots last year, it reappeared on the Apple store a few months later and on Google Play last month, having implemented “robust moderation practices”. Parler’s user base is still a small fraction of what it once was, but Kanye West’s purchase of the site could give it a boost.
West’s interest might have been piqued when Twitter temporarily banned him after he tweeted that he was “going death con 3 on Jewish people [sic].” The rapper’s purchase may not be enough to restore Parler to its former glories, but it does represent part of a larger shift towards accommodation of content and platforms that were very recently deemed toxic in mainstream circles. Joe Rogan, once deemed beneath notice and then a dangerous nuisance by establishment figures up to and including Anthony Fauci, has reached such respectability that Mark Zuckerberg and Sanjay Gupta sit on his guest list alongside Alex Berenson and Louis CK.
In that light, West’s purchase of Parler is less significant in itself than as a reminder that there will always be a Kanye. Can we point to an instance of top-down management of discourse in the last decade, whether around Donald Trump, Covid, QAnon, or any number of other issues, that has actually worked? The recent campaign against noxious “lolcow” site KiwiFarms, culminating in CloudFlare yanking their services from the site and triumphalist headlines like “How Kiwi Farms, the worst place on the web, was shut down” and “Why anti-trans web forum Kiwi Farms was erased from the internet,” only for the site to return within weeks.
Of course, it is just as easy to find more than enough anti-Semitism on Facebook before going underground to find the some toxicity and hatred. It’s enough to question Parler’s rationale for existence in the first place. Instead, we seem to be faced simultaneously with 1) extremist content being marginalised into sites that won’t die, or die only to re-spawn, and 2) establishment platforms that can’t get rid much of the extremist content in the first place.
Kanye West managed to embody both these phenomena in getting banned from Twitter and buying Parler. But he was also speedily reinstated by Twitter (and warmly welcomed back by possible future Twitter owner Elon Musk) before the Parler purchase had even been announced. The greatest threat to Parler, in fact, may simply be Twitter throwing up their hands. Sources have reported that Twitter was already working to address conservative concerns with their platform regardless of whether Elon Musk purchased the site or not.
Parler may grow under West’s ownership or it may not. What’s on the service will continue to exist somewhere on the internet — even if it’s Facebook and Twitter. People endlessly debate whether or not marginalising certain viewpoints causes them to fester or to die out, but the framing of the question is wrong. Today, attempted acts of marginalisation cause the festering even as they fail to marginalise, granting us the worst of both worlds. You get Kanye on Twitter and Kanye’s Parler. Double your Kanye, double your fun. Surely the farce is increasingly evident?