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Something very interesting is happening in the social media world right now. The newest social media moguls these days include the likes of Ye (Kanye West), Elon Musk and former president Donald Trump. All three of these individuals are billionaire celebrities with massive social media followings of their own. They are getting involved in social media not so much for business reasons, but rather, as a way of fundamentally shifting media narratives.
In the future, all media moguls will look like Kanye West
In many ways, all three of them are also reluctant social media moguls. They are buying up social media platforms (as in the case of Ye and Elon Musk) or launching new ones of their own (as in the case of Donald Trump), mostly out of a desire to change society. A few years ago, many of them probably could never have imagined doing so. Even though all of them are skillful entrepreneurs and business leaders, they went into these social media deals with no particular experience in heading up a media company.
Kanye West, Elon Musk and Donald Trump have either been de-platformed from other platforms, or have been disheartened at how most social media platforms are no longer neutral public squares for rational discussion. As a result, they have felt compelled to dip into their tremendous personal fortune to change things for the better. This is a huge contrast from even a few years ago, when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought up The Washington Post as a massive vanity project. At the time, Bezos said he had no intention of becoming involved in the editorial direction of the newspaper.
The Parler deal
In the case of Ye, he is now buying the social media platform Parler, which was one of the first “alternative” social media platforms for Republicans and right-leaning individuals. The CEO of the company is married to Candace Owens, who is one of the most ardent supporters of Ye both online and in real life. Ye will pay an undisclosed sum to Parler in the millions of dollars for control of the company. The entire back-end cloud infrastructure for Parler will continue to be provided by Parlement Technologies, which ensures that Parler will never be taken down by a third party. The only way Parler goes down is if the entire grid goes down.
The shape of things to come?
In many ways, the Parler deal could be a template for future social media deals: a wealthy celebrity billionaire ostracized from society buys a politically-affiliated social media platform as a way to avoid being de-platformed or canceled. In addition, all of the tech infrastructure remains in-house, so as to avoid being taken down or removed from app stores (as was the case early in Parler’s existence). Of course, all of this will be contextualized as supporting free speech and democratic ideals. That is the new blueprint.
But be careful of what you wish. If you are a Kanye West or Donald Trump fan, this might sound fantastic. It’s a way of hitting back at the elite establishment in a way that surprises and delights their fans. But what happens if the Republicans take over in 2022 as a result of the midterm elections, and things start to swing in the opposite direction?
There are a lot more high-profile liberal celebrities in Hollywood, for example, than there are conservative celebrities. So, for years to come, we might see the rise of billionaire-funded social media platforms supporting liberal and far left-leaning issues. Who knows? Kim Kardashian might choose to launch a new platform of her own as a way of getting revenge against Kanye, her ex-husband.
The weaponization of media
And that’s the big problem these days. Media – and more specifically, social media – has been weaponized. It can be used to legitimize any view or any political ideology. It can pass off misinformation and outright lies as “truth.” And it can be used to marginalize anyone who doesn’t agree with what’s being said on a particular platform. When that’s the case, it has the impact of dividing and polarizing society, not bringing it together.
Thus, all of these newly-minted social media entrepreneurs are going to have to remind themselves constantly that they are doing this for society, and not for themselves. Otherwise, things are going to get out of control, really fast.