May 25, 2023 - 7:00am

In one of the more awkward live events in recent years, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis used Twitter Spaces, the platform’s audio conversations feature, to announce his run for the presidency in the 2024 elections. 

Despite the landmark nature of the event — a new chapter in the evolution of Twitter into a platform that makes and reports the news as well as allows people and organisations to share it — the proceedings were marred by technical glitches due to the sheer volume of users tuning in: over 600,000 at one point. This saw even DeSantis being dropped from the conversation, necessitating a scramble to get the discussion back on track. Despite this hiccup, the event supported 150,000 users once it was stabilised —  less reach than a “banger” Trump tweet or Tucker Carlson’s peak primetime audience on Fox, yet still a considerable number of people.

In fits and starts, Musk’s vision for Twitter is being unveiled. It seems to be transforming from a tech platform to an alternative media platform, becoming more inclusive of centre-Right and far-Right narratives and political discourse. The Daily Wire, a leading conservative media outlet hosting commentators like Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh, and Michael Knowles, declared its intention to move its entire roster of podcasts to Twitter. Further, Tucker Carlson has signalled his intent to transition his prime-time-show format to Twitter.

With this shift, Twitter seems to be emulating the trajectory of platforms like Frank, a “free speech app” funded by MyPillow owner Mike Lindell and headlined by Emerald Robinson’s “The Absolute Truth” show, and Rumble, which transitioned from a struggling YouTube alternative to a burgeoning Right-wing platform by offering a mixture of talk shows hosted by the likes of Glenn Greenwald and sports content from Dana White’s new slap fighting league. Like Frank and Rumble, Twitter is trying to find a way to resuscitate itself by embracing Right-wing commentators and personalities who have found themselves lacking opportunities elsewhere.

This shift was best evidenced by DeSantis’s first-of-its-kind announcement on the platform, marking Twitter as an emerging launchpad for Right-wing political aspirants — though a platform that needs a better interface for such momentous occasions.

Once the technical glitches were largely resolved, DeSantis took the stage to outline his track record as governor. His declaration was underscored by a critique of the Republican Party’s recent performance, stating — as other would-be candidates such as Chris Sununu recently have — that “we must end the culture of losing that has infected the Republican Party in recent years.” 

DeSantis defended his policies in Florida, notably those restricting the teaching of concepts like gender identity and anti-racism. In a contralto voice that doesn’t carry nearly as well as Trump’s Queens-inflected tenor — and further hampered by the tinny sound of Twitter Spaces — DeSantis framed these measures as an effort to shield young children from “woke” ideologies. With a reputation for standing up to the federal government over Covid policies and a high-profile battle with Disney that has kept him in the headlines, DeSantis positioned himself as the clear challenger to Trump’s primacy in the Republican cosmos.

In an indirect jab at the former president — whose name was never mentioned during the 90-minute conversation — DeSantis emphasised, “Government is not about entertainment, not about building a brand.” This statement was ironic, considering he made it on Twitter, the platform that organically propelled Trump to the White House, one brand-building tweet at a time. It remains to be seen if DeSantis, or owner Musk, will get a similarly priceless bump from the format.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work