Home Business Insights & Advice Op-ed: Celebrity ownership of social media platforms is about ego and vanity, not free speech

Op-ed: Celebrity ownership of social media platforms is about ego and vanity, not free speech

by Sponsored Content
27th Oct 22 1:52 pm

These days, celebrity scandals on the Internet are about as common as grains of sand on a beach. Rapper Kanye West, now known as Ye, has been a lightning rod of controversy for years, but his latest outbursts online have drawn accusations of antisemitism and seen his social media accounts restricted.

In response, West has since announced plans to buy the right-wing social media platform, Parler, claiming he wants to “create a truly non-cancelable environment” by taking over the site and fighting against censorship and so-called “cancel culture.”

“In a world where conservative opinions are considered to be controversial, we have to make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves,” West stated in a release announcing the deal.

But don’t be fooled. West’s bid to buy a social media platform has nothing to do with cancel culture or free speech, and everything to do with vanity and the ego-driven delusion that everything he says, no matter how stupid or ignorant, is important enough for the public to care about.

As an uber-wealthy celebrity, West is seemingly following in the footsteps of Elon Musk and Donald Trump in his bid to control a social media brand that won’t kick him off for saying objectionable things. Musk’s deal to buy Twitter was motivated by the Tesla billionaire’s apparent status as a “free speech absolutist,” while Trump’s Truth Social platform popped up after he was permanently kicked off Twitter for incitement of violence after the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol building by his supporters.

West’s move to buy Parler, meanwhile, quickly drew comparisons with both Musk and Trump, further fueling the fires of public debate about big tech’s role in politics and entertainment, and ultimately, its role in protecting and preserving free speech, no matter how unpopular (or bigoted) that speech may be. In touting the Parler deal the site’s parent company’s CEO, George Farmer, praised West for “making a groundbreaking move into the free speech media space and will never have to fear being removed from social media again. Once again, Ye proves that he is one step ahead of the legacy media narrative.”

There is much irony to Farmer’s statement that he’s likely unaware of, though. In framing Ye’s purchase as a counterweight to a “legacy media narrative,” Farmer is of course trying to create a narrative of his own, casting West as an oppressed freedom fighter against the tyranny of big tech, big government, and cancel culture.

The problem with this narrative is that West, like Musk and Trump, isn’t an oppressed freedom fighter dedicated to free speech, but rather an obscenely wealthy, powerful, and influential celebrity who is seemingly averse to any criticism of his words and allergic to any consequences for his actions. Despite their altruistic pronouncements about their motives for getting into the social media game, the fact is that these men owning social media platforms will do nothing to enhance free speech in the U.S. or abroad. Instead, these ego-driven vanity projects will likely just continue on as toxic digital cesspools of bigotry, misinformation, and hate.

Simply put, they will become (if they’re not already) lawless echo chambers for dangerous ignorance. How do we know this? Because the internet has already been a petri dish for such free speech utopian experiments, and instead of creating a paradise for public debate, they instead became uncontrollable monstrosities more akin to the tale of Frankenstein.

Just ask Fred Brennan, the creator of the anonymous message board 8chan.  Brennan’s site, which he no longer controls, was supposed to be a place where ideas could be posted and exchanged without fear of censorship or heavy-handed content moderation. But as Vice Magazine reported in a recent profile of Brennan detailing violent death threats against him, 8chan under its current ownership “has become notorious as the home of mass shooters, far-right white supremacists, and, most recently, QAnon.” Brennan himself, like Dr. Frankenstein, created a monster that can’t be controlled as it continues to run amok, scorching the intellectual landscape with no regard for decency, compassion, truth, or human life.

Unlike Musk, West, and Trump, however, Brennan is not a powerful, uber-rich celebrity pretending to be a victim of cancel culture or big tech censorship. He’s a young man confined to a wheelchair due to a lifelong brittle bone ailment now facing a tsunami of online scorn and threats for daring to speak out about the caustic nature of his own creation. The irony of Brennan’s situation should not be lost on anyone, but it likely is.

But Brennan’s story, along with West’s, shouldn’t really come as a surprise in today’s poisoned digital atmosphere. As sci-fi author Isaac Asimov said decades ago, the noted futurist warned of the ever-present “cult of ignorance in the United States.”

“The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge,” Asimov once said.

Asimov’s words should ring out as a warning bell echoing from the past. But for men like Kanye West, Elon Musk, and Donald Trump, the cult of ignorance in the U.S. and around the world isn’t something to be feared and resisted, but rather monetised and exploited. They may claim to care about free speech at any cost, but only because they’re not the ones paying the bills. They’re the ones cashing the cheques, feeding their bloated egos, and satisfying their vain and insecure need for public validation.

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