NATIONAL NEWS

Twitter’s launch of DeSantis’ presidential bid underscores platform’s rightward shift under Musk

May 25, 2023, 8:46 AM

FILE - A sign at Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco, Dec. 8, 2022. While shaky and skew...

FILE - A sign at Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco, Dec. 8, 2022. While shaky and skewered by critics, Twitter’s forum for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to announce his presidential run nevertheless underscored the platform’s unmistakable shift to the right under new owner Elon Musk. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Two years ago, signing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted the platforms as “suppressing ideas” during the COVID-19 pandemic and silencing conservative voices.

What a turnaround.

The new Elon Musk-owned version of Twitter helped DeSantis launch his bid for the skewered by the candidate’s critics, the forum nevertheless underscored Twitter’s unmistakable shift to the right under Musk, who bought it for $44 billion and took over in October.

“The truth was censored repeatedly, and now that Twitter is in the hands of a free speech advocate, that would not be able to happen again on this Twitter platform,” DeSantis said during the Twitter Spaces event.

Musk, co-hosting the event, responded to the praise by saying, “Twitter was indeed expensive, but free speech is priceless.”

While Musk has promoted his platform as a haven for free expression, the site has been flooded with extremist views and hate speech since he bought it and fired or laid off roughly 80% of its staff.

That is raising alarms that Twitter — heavily used by candidates and government agencies, including those providing voting information — will become an open forum for conspiracy theories, fake content and election misinformation as a bitterly divided country heads into the 2024 presidential election.

Many Republicans have hailed Musk’s takeover of Twitter as creating one of the last mainstream online spaces where they can share their views without fear of removal. Prominent figures in conservative media, like former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and the podcasts hosts of The Daily Wire, say they plan to start streaming content on the site.

Democrats and anti-hate watchdogs, meanwhile, say Musk’s partisan comments and policy changes have effectively given a megaphone to far-right extremists.

Since Musk bought Twitter, he has overhauled the site’s verification system, gutted the team that had been responsible for moderating the content flowing across the platform.

That has coincided with a deluge of conspiracy theory rhetoric, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which reported that QAnon hashtags surged 91% on Twitter between May 2022 and May 2023, with about three-fourths of those messages posted after Musk’s takeover.

Several believers of the baseless QAnon theory, centered on the idea that former President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against “deep state” enemies and pedophiles, have committed acts of violence, including the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Musk’s decision to reinstate influential Twitter accounts with a history of spreading extremist views also has created spaces in their tweet reply threads where users are sharing antisemitic tropes, conspiracy theories and other types of hate, the ADL reported Wednesday.

The group’s vice president Yael Eisenstat, who leads its Center for Technology and Society, said Musk’s content moderation choices have “served to silence marginalized voices” by giving harassers and internet trolls free reign.

“It is one thing to say we want free speech on the platform,” she said. “It’s another thing to say we are going to allow extremists — conspiracy theorists — to contribute to normalizing this kind of rhetoric and antisemitism and racism.”

Twitter didn’t provide comment after repeated requests. It sent automated replies instead, as it does to most media inquiries.

Musk’s free speech rhetoric also has attracted conservatives who have been knocked off other platforms — or fired, in the case of Carlson.

Shortly after his ouster, Carlson went on Twitter May 9 to announce that he would be doing some version of his show on that platform. It’s still not clear what that would entail, or when he would start.

“There aren’t many platforms left that allow free speech,” Carlson said in a two-minute message viewed more than 132 million times. “The last big one remaining in the world, the only one, is Twitter, where we are now.”

Free speech and truth aren’t the same thing, however, and Carlson had been accused of spreading misinformation on his Fox show, most recently about the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

DeSantis has been a frequent guest on Fox News, and on the night of his presidential campaign announcement he appeared on the network for an interview — after the Twitter event.

Though DeSantis’ Twitter launch was severely delayed with site crashes and strained servers, his choice to debut his campaign on the platform illustrates that Fox will have more competition as a Republican kingmaker. His campaign said it had taken in $1 million online in the first hour after the announcement. Fox’s ratings have declined dramatically during its 8 p.m. Eastern hour, which Carlson used to fill.

The Daily Wire, whose podcast hosts include popular conservative influencers such as Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens, said Tuesday that it would bring its shows to stream on Twitter starting next week.

Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former Republican National Committee communications director, said Twitter is “certainly going to be an increasing part” of GOP campaign strategies for the 2024 presidential primary.

“And that’s all because of what Elon Musk has said over the past few months as he’s taken Twitter over and sought to make it a space more friendly to conservatives,” he said.

Musk has leaned into Republican politics, tweeting in 2022 that Democrats “have become the party of division & hate.” While he has tweeted support for both DeSantis and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who also entered the GOP field this week, he said Tuesday he was not yet endorsing any particular presidential candidate.

Even as Democrats wince at the direction Musk has taken Twitter, most are staying put — at least for now. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that when looking to the future, just slightly more Democratic users than Republicans said it’s unlikely they will be on Twitter in a year.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said he has been experimenting with the Twitter alternative BlueSky as a “more casual, fun and positive environment” than Twitter. But he also has continued to use Twitter to communicate with his constituents.

Jimmy Williams, a longtime Democratic political consultant, said he would advise Democrats not to “cede the space.” Indeed, Musk said Wednesday that his forum would be available to any politician.

“Twitter’s a two-way street,” Williams said.

____

Associated Press media writer David Bauder in New York contributed to this report.

____

The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. See more about AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

National News

A Delta Air Lines jet leaves the gate, Friday, July 19, 2024, at Logan International Airport in Bos...

Associated Press

Delta Air Lines says cancellations continue as it tries to restore operations after tech outage

NEW YORK (AP) — Airlines, including Delta Air Lines, continued to struggle to restore operations two days after a faulty software update caused technological havoc worldwide and resulted in several carriers grounding flights. Total cancellations within, into or out of the U.S. on Sunday clocked in at 1,461, according to the latest data from FlightAware. […]

14 minutes ago

Associated Press

US official says Biden’s meeting with Netanyahu remains on track, despite withdrawal from race

WASHINGTON (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with President Joe Biden at the White House this week as planned, despite Biden’s withdrawal from the presidential race, a person familiar with Biden’s schedule said Sunday. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said the exact […]

1 hour ago

FILE - President Joe Biden participates in a briefing in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 2...

Associated Press

Biden’s legacy: Far-reaching accomplishments that didn’t translate into political support

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sitting in the Oval Office behind the iconic Resolute desk in 2022, an animated President Joe Biden described the challenge of leading a psychologically traumatized nation. The United States had endured a life-altering pandemic. There was a jarring burst of inflation and now global conflict with Russia invading Ukraine, as well as […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Here’s the letter that Biden wrote to say he would no longer seek reelection

WASHINGTON (AP) — Preident Joe Biden on Sunday posted a letter to social media announcing that he would no longer seek reelection. The decision by the Democrat came after building pressure from lawmakers, donors, activists and voters within his own party who had concerns about his ability to beat Republican Donald Trump in November’s election. […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Democrats hail Biden’s decision to not seek reelection as selfless. Republicans urge him to resign

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic lawmakers hailed President Joe Biden’s historic decision on Sunday not to seek reelection, praising him as putting his country and his party before himself. Republicans called on him to resign from office, saying that if he could not run for another term, office, then he’s unable to serve as president. Biden’s […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in the East Room of the White House, March 18, 2024, in ...

Associated Press

Harris, endorsed by Biden, could become first woman, second Black person to be president

WASHINGTON (AP) — She’s already broken barriers, and now Kamala Harris could become the first Black woman to head a major party presidential ticket after President Joe Biden abruptly ended his reelection bid and endorsed her. Biden announced Sunday that was stepping aside amid widespread concerns about the viability of his candidacy. Harris is the […]

3 hours ago

Twitter’s launch of DeSantis’ presidential bid underscores platform’s rightward shift under Musk