Elon Musk’s glitchy Ron DeSantis show highlights doubts over right-wing pivot

The audio-only livestream with DeSantis was vexed by crashes and delays for nearly half an hour. The result was a tsunami of memes and comments mocking the right-wing Florida governor’s ‘failure to launch’ and raising new questions about whether billionaire Musk’s drastic cutbacks at Twitter have hurt the platform. — AFP

SAN FRANCISCO: Glitches marring the Twitter launch of Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign Wednesday put fresh dents in Elon Musk’s hopes of turning the network into a Fox News challenger, fueling doubts over the billionaire’s right-wing pivot.

Just a few hundred thousand people tuned in for the audio-only livestream with DeSantis, but even with that relatively small audience for a virtual online assembly – videogames such as Fortnite regularly host audiences in the millions – it was vexed by crashes and delays for nearly half an hour.

The result was a tsunami of memes and comments mocking the right-wing Florida governor’s “failure to launch” and raising new questions about whether billionaire Musk’s drastic cutbacks at Twitter have hurt the platform.

Along with mocking the technical meltdowns, many users also criticised the failure by hosts of the livestream to challenge DeSantis on his statements, which largely followed his deeply conservative “anti-woke” cultural talking points.

“Disaster. He’s killed the bird,” read a tweet from the account of @Jason_Kint apparently referring to Musk and Twitter’s bird logo.

DeSantis’s choice of outlet for his announcement followed news that ousted Fox News star Tucker Carlson will move his show to Twitter. The Daily Wire, a conservative news outlet, has also said Twitter will host its video and podcasts.

Musk has touted the events as his effort to turn Twitter into what he describes as a digital town square, and help turn his roller-coaster-ride buyout of the social media giant last year into a money-winning proposition.

He even ended the DeSantis launch by optimistically encouraging other presidential candidates to take part in similar events.

Musk’s challenge is to find “big name users who will come and create content on Twitter” that will encourage users to spend time on the platform, said Andrew Selepak, assistant media professor at the University of Florida.

The problem is that Musk is increasingly limiting himself to the right wing, which may scare away a chunk of advertisers that are willing to pay to display on Twitter.

“If it becomes an entirely right leaning platform, then yes, you would lose audience, you would lose advertising,” said Selepak.

‘I don’t care!’

Musk is being driven by two contradictory forces. On the one hand, he would like to see Twitter win him back his US$44bil (RM203.32bil) investment and to do that he will have to keep advertisers on board.

On the other hand, Musk wants to remain Musk.

Major advertisers fled in droves after his takeover, unimpressed by the tycoon’s mercurial behaviour and the firing of thousands of people, many of whom scrubbed away bad content from Twitter.

Initially, Musk set out to do without them, plugging an amped-up subscription service that would compensate for the loss of revenue.

He also welcomed back banned accounts and shooed away the media establishment by branding top-tier news groups as state-affiliated media or removing authentication for the accounts of journalists and celebrities.

But with his push to build a subscriber base flailing, Musk tacitly admitted defeat by poaching Linda Yaccarino as CEO.

Yaccarino is a respected ad executive who built deep relationships with the world’s biggest brands as ad boss for NBCUniversal, the media group.

Musk insists on maintaining his free-wheeling inclinations that can include dabbling in conspiracy theories and far right tropes.

Asked in a recent interview if he thought about the business consequences of his uncontrolled behaviour online, a clearly provoked Musk answered: “I don’t care!”

‘Anything is achievable’

Musk’s critics believe that refusal to stay above the fray will deny him the trust of blue-chip advertisers.

“The people that Musk is bringing on board are among the most disturbingly bigoted forces on the right,” said Matt Gertz, senior fellow at the left-leaning Media Matters group.

“The Yaccarino hiring and this are contradictory – these are moves you make if you want to cultivate a subscriber base of far right extremists, not if you want to make money off of advertising,” Gertz said.

Others, however, point out that conservatives have managed to carve out a way to make big money from media.

“Profits have always been the priority ...(and Musk) is tapping into a model that has been successful on talk radio and Fox News,” said Kathryn C. Brownell, assistant professor of history at Purdue University.

Moreover, Fox News dominance of US TV news is currently in a rough patch.

If it doesn’t work, Musk will more than likely have to fork out more money to back Twitter.

“If (Musk) wants to pour another US$40bil (RM184.84bil) into creating Twitter News, that’s the only way it could really work,” said Roy Gutterman, Syracuse University professor and director at the Tully Center for Free Speech.

“To have even a quasi news outlet, you’re still going to need a pretty costly infrastructure,” he added. – AFP

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