May 16, 2021 - Axios on HBO

Cameo CEO says he would let Trump join platform

Cameo CEO Steven Galanis doesn't want the app he built to be used explicitly for politics, but said he would allow former President Trump on the platform.

  • "Trump has done nothing on our platform to violate our terms of service," Galanis says in an interview with "Axios on HBO" that aired Sunday.

Why it matters: Cameo's approach is different than some of its Big Tech peers.

  • Trump never joined the platform, so the service wasn't in a position to kick him off following his comments during January's Capitol siege.
  • In choosing to allow him on now, Cameo is making a clear decision that the company is a marketplace that's agnostic to politics or previous controversial behaviors that aren't explicitly illegal.
  • The issue of de-platforming politicians resurfaced this month when Facebook's independent Oversight Board upheld Facebook decision to suspend Trump, albeit with caveats.

Catch up quick: Cameo is an app that lets fans pay for personalized videos from celebrities. It was recently valued at over $1 billion, given its unprecedented success during the pandemic, when many Hollywood stars were out of work.

Between the lines: Cameo has been used for politics, but Galanis says it's not in the company's plans to double down on that function.

  • "I think Cameo is a place for laughs. It's a place for fun," he said in the interview.
  • Last year, for the first time in its four-year history, Cameo enabled political fundraising on its platform in the U.S., so that surrogates could raise money for political candidates. But Galanis says this isn't something he plans to expand.
  • "It took us two and a half years to get the compliance set up to actually do this the right way," he said. "I don't think that it's gonna be a priority for us to do political fundraising abroad."

Yes, but: Many tech companies launch with the goal of being agnostic to politics, only to find that it's impossible to maintain that position as they grow.

By the numbers: Galanis said political fundraising videos accounted for less than 1% of its total revenue last year, which was about $100 million.

  • There are roughly 10 million creators globally that he could see as one day being a fit to join the platform. Currently, there are 40,000 creators on Cameo, most of which are reality TV stars or athletes.

The big picture: While politics isn't a core focus for Cameo, Galanis says he can see why political figures are gaining traction as celebrities in the social media age.

  • "[U]ltimately, politics is entertainment as well, right? So, so many of the politicians that are coming up, especially in this age, like they are just as big — their followings are just as devoted as the biggest rapper, the biggest person on YouTube or the biggest athlete or actor," he said.
  • Asked why there are far more Republicans, including former Trump officials, than Democrats, Galanis says "You had a reality TV star as president ... Anyone that was part of it was just one big reality show for the last four years."

The bottom line: "We're in the middle of a big growth spurt," Galanis says. "So all the things that are happening today, we have to create our own policies that work uniquely for Cameo, because the rules of our platform are different than they are for YouTube, Instagram, and for Twitter."

  • "And it took those platforms a hell of a long time to figure it out, too."
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