Kanye West's rebranding in 2018 as a "thought leader" has been an exhausting and thoroughly disappointing effort, especially for fans who once defended his narcissism as a tool of liberation. Since the potentially career-defining "slavery was a choice" confrontation at TMZ studios, he has tamped down his belligerent alignment with the forces of the far-right and embraced a less polarizing guru persona, solidified with the unfortunate title of his upcoming album YANDHI. Like his idol Steve Jobs, Kanye's desire to advance the human endeavor seems contingent on him being at the center of that movement.
Kanye's actual convictions are vaporous – he has denounced pride then shared his chart position a few days later, and by his own admission, he's scant on knowledge of actual issues for his upcoming presidential campaign. But in the last week, he's drawn attention to a significant social and technological issue: stats on social media such as likes and follower counts, and the detrimental effects they can have on self-esteem and how we view the world. "We should be able to participate in social media without having to show how many followers or likes we have," he tweeted on September 20, adding "we have to hold the heads responsible for the psychological damage it sometimes causes."
Kanye's pronouncement was widely shared across the internet, and praised as well as criticized in the media. Soon, Kanye shared excerpts of two "conversations" about social media stats with two tech giants, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Snapchat VP Ben Schwerin. They are both flattering of Kanye and make the case for how their platforms are engaging with or have addressed his concerns. It's difficult to believe that both men weren't hoping that West, who frequently shares snippets of iMessage exchanges, wouldn't do so with theirs – West has a direct line to millions of young users, and a statement claiming that they're listening to a concern many of them share has a much broader reach if it's shared by Kanye. Then, there's the "conversation" aspect of the messages, which suggests an authenticity to the sentiments of Dorsey and Schwerin that doesn't exist in press releases. Which is what these messages are.
The issue Kanye is calling attention to is a genuinely important one, and it would likely require a lot more risk and sacrifice than most social media companies would partake in without massive public pressure. However, it's just one issue Kanye has taken up: he's claimed his company DONDA will build schools in Chicago, and has claimed in since-disproven tweets that he's teaching art courses in two separate institutions. Taken together, his recent public statements are themselves a campaign for YANDHI. They're meant to build an image, not schools or any actual change. Now, Dorsey and Schwerin are along for the ride, which raises doubts of anything actually happening.
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