Kanye West, the rapper, fashion designer and firebrand increasingly known for his antagonistic cultural and political commentary, is set to buy Parler, a social media service that bills itself as a platform for uncancelable free speech.
The service’s parent company, Parlement Technologies, said on Monday that Mr. West, who now goes by Ye, would help Parler “continue the fight against censorship, cancel culture and authoritarianism.” The announcement, a little over a week after Twitter and Instagram restricted Ye’s accounts in response to antisemitic remarks that he posted, did not disclose financial details.
“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 released by Parlement.
Ye’s involvement adds another shot of name recognition to the crowded cluster of alternative social media sites that have emerged in recent years as right-wing surrogates for Twitter and Facebook. Former President Donald J. Trump started the Truth Social platform this year, and his former spokesman, Jason Miller, began running Gettr last year. The sites offer refuges for users chafing against the more mainstream platforms’ moderation policies, though they have also increasingly become breeding grounds for conspiracy theories and misinformation.
Parler, which was started in 2018 and is based in Nashville, follows a model similar to that of many of its competitors on the periphery of the social media space. It has fashioned its resistance to stringent content rules into a selling point and has appealed to many of Mr. Trump’s fans.
Early last year, Apple, Amazon and Google briefly kicked Parler off their platforms after the app hosted calls for violence around the time of the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill.Parler, whose investors include the right-wing activist and heiress Rebekah Mercer, said last month that it had raised $16 million, bringing its total funding to $56 million. But like many alternative social platforms, it has a limited audience.
Data.ai, which monitors app store activity, estimated that Parler downloads across Apple’s iOS platform and Google Play dropped to 21,000 in the third quarter of the year from 58,000 in the first quarter. Twitter, by comparison, had 4.5 million downloads in the third quarter, down from 5.2 million. Data.ai estimated that Parler had 706,000 monthly average users in the middle of the year, compared to an estimated 2.8 million iPhone users on Truth Social.
Parler currently ranks 108th for news apps in the U.S. iOS app store, according to Data.ai. At its peak, it was No. 1, as millions of Trump supporters, critical of what they deemed censorship on Facebook and Twitter, signed up.
Dan Wang, a strategy professor at Columbia Business School, said that Parler was an “incredibly niche” player.
“That’s really a drop in the bucket,” said Dr. Wang, whose research focuses on how social networks drive social and economic transformation. “Kanye West is a wealthy person and has a lot of resources, but not on the scale of being able to buy actually influential social media platforms.”
Only 6 percent of adults regularly seek out news from at least one of seven major alternative social media sites, according to a report this month from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center; in addition to Parler, they are BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social. Of the 10,188 people surveyed, 38 percent had heard of Parler, Pew found.
Parlement and Ye expect to finalize the sale during the fourth quarter of this year, the company said.
“Ye is making a groundbreaking move into the free speech media space and will never have to fear being removed from social media again,” George Farmer, the chief executive of Parlement and the son of a member of the British Parliament, said in a statement on Monday. “Once again, Ye proves that he is one step ahead of the legacy media narrative.”
Ye was at the center of several cultural firestorms in recent weeks, which led to accusations of racism and antisemitism, and prompted the restrictions against his social media accounts.
Over the weekend, “Drink Champs,” the rap YouTube series, released an episode that featured Ye repeating several antisemitic conspiracy theories and questioning the cause of the death of George Floyd, the Black man who was murdered in 2020 by a police officer in Minneapolis. (On Sunday, a lawyer representing Mr. Floyd’s family said they were considering filing a lawsuit against Ye for his statements about Mr. Floyd’s death.)
Earlier this month, Ye disrupted his YZY show at Paris Fashion Week by wearing a T-shirt featuring the words “White Lives Matter,” a phrase that the Anti-Defamation League has called hate speech. He was photographed at the show alongside Candace Owens, a conservative commentator who was wearing a similar shirt and is married to Mr. Farmer.
Ms. Owens, whose Twitter account was temporarily suspended in 2020 over pandemic-related posts and whose Facebook posts have sometimes been flagged with fact-checking labels, has publicly voiced support for Ye. She tweeted this month that “Ye is my friend.” In April, she tweeted that she loved the way he thinks.
Last week, Ye posed for red carpet photos with Ms. Owens at the Nashville premiere of her movie, “Greatest Lie Ever Sold: George Floyd and the Rise of B.L.M.” The film claims that after Mr. Floyd died in police custody, setting off worldwide protests, the Black Lives Matter movement used the unrest to raise millions of dollars. Ms. Owens has railed against the movement and described Mr. Floyd as a “horrible human being.”
After Ye wore the “White Lives Matter” T-shirt, Adidas said it was reviewing its partnership with him. Last month, Ye notified Gap via a letter that he was terminating their partnership involving the Yeezy Gap apparel line. Citing breach of contract, Ye said he was moving ahead with plans to open his own stores. The Gap brand president, Mark Breitbard, wrote in a note to employees that Gap and Ye had not been “aligned” on how to work together to deliver their shared vision.
Ye wrote on Instagram after the fashion show that “my one T-shirt took allllll the attention,” but much of the reaction was negative. Sean Combs, the rapper known as Diddy, posted a video on the platform criticizing the situation, saying “it’s not a joke” and urging his audience not to wear or buy the shirt.
In early October, Ye suggested on Instagram that Jewish people were controlling Mr. Combs. Instagram removed the posts and restricted his account; Meta, which owns Instagram, said it places restrictions on accounts that repeatedly break its rules.
Days later, after returning to Twitter following a nearly two-year absence, Ye said in a series of posts that he would go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” an apparent reference to the United States’ defense readiness condition, known as DEFCON. He also wrote that “you guys have toyed with me and tried to blackball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”
Elon Musk, who is in the process of buying Twitter, replied to one of Ye’s tweets that complained about the Instagram restriction: “Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!”
After Ye’s series of tweets, the company locked his account for violating its policies. The moves by the social media companies prevent Ye from posting for an undisclosed period.
Ye created an account on Parler on Monday. He has more than 5,000 followers so far.
Stuart A. Thompson and Alex Marshall contributed reporting.