Elon Musk’s right-wing media company scores another big win

Only a year ago, Elon Musk, then simply the guy hoping to buy Twitter, insisted that his politics were squarely at the center of the national spectrum. You might remember the (stolen) meme he shared, showing the political left drifting away from him as he sat there, jaw-dropping at how things had changed.

Combined with his declared intention to restore “freedom of expression” on Twitter, this presentation had the desired effect. He wasn’t right wing, he just thought right wing people who had been removed from Twitter for abuse or misinformation should be allowed back. He sold electric cars, for Pete’s sake!

Shortly after taking over Twitter, however, the idea that he was a moderate was untenable. He had approved Republicans in the midterm elections, predict a “massive red wave”. He suggested Anthony Fauci be prosecuted and he raised baseless conspiracy theories about the attack on Paul Pelosi. He repeatedly engaged with fringe voices on Twitter as hate speech and misinformation flourished. This was all before his more recent efforts to minimize white supremacism and its attacks on George Soros.

Now, it seems safe to conclude that Musk’s intention in buying Twitter was not just to dismantle an institution he saw as a tool that empowered the media, but to turn the social media platform into a heavyweight in the right-wing ecosystem. If so, he recently cemented two wins that bring that goal closer to reality.

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On Tuesday, news broke that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (right)’s long-awaited candidacy for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination would be announced on Twitter in a live chat moderated by Musk himself.

Musk has been a long-time DeSantis fan, saying in June that he was already leaning towards the support of the probable offer of the governor of Florida. And Twitter already seems to have helped DeSantis’ campaign in at least one way.

This week, DeSantis’ Twitter account was changed from “RonDeSantisFL” to the more nationwide friendly “RonDeSantis”. The previous owner of “RonDeSantis” was Ronald Louis DeSantis, a California real estate agent who died in 2020. Its account, created in 2009, is now “rondeSantis__1”. So either the Florida Governor’s team reached out to his estate and managed to coordinate a trade, or Twitter facilitated the transfer. (You’ll recall Musk’s announcement this month that accounts that have been inactive for at least a month could be purged, which he said would free old usernames.)

Either way, DeSantis announcing his candidacy on Twitter is a testament to the platform’s newly attained status on the right. DeSantis used to give favored status to Fox News, including at one point signing the legislation live on the channel’s morning show. Although he is still giving an interview to the right-wing cable news channel after the Twitter event, the lure of the social media platform’s metrics was apparently too much to resist.

That was Musk’s other big hit recently, of course: former Fox host Tucker Carlson’s announcement that he would – at some point – start hosting a daily Twitter show. The video Carlson posted in which he revealed this plan has been viewed by tens of millions of people, according to Twitter statistics, an understandable level of attention would be appealing to both Carlson and DeSantis. DeSantis’ post-Twitter Fox interview would take place during Carlson’s former time slot on Fox, a time slot that has seen lukewarm ratings since the former host was ousted.

Twitter is also positioned to compete with Fox News in another key way: Musk can provide space for fringe misinformation more easily than the cable network. Following the 2020 presidential election, Fox News found itself torn between its audience’s huge appetite for false claims about voter fraud and its ostensible newsgathering duties. This tension led to the Dominion Voting Systems libel lawsuit that will cost Fox more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in a settlement. Musk’s Twitter can give that same audience an endless amount of nonsense from users that Musk can present as his simple “freedom of speech.”

That said, it’s not clear in the long term that audiences for this stuff will get news via cable. Twitter and other social media tools are used far less by older Americans who are Trump and Fox’s support base. DeSantis will be speaking to many people on Wednesday, but how many of them are grassroots Republican primary voters?

For now, Musk can bask in his successful efforts to shape the political conversation. He can use the DeSantis conversation as a starting point to show new or old users of Twitter that the platform is supportive of their politics and worldview and that – as long as they don’t criticize foreign autocrats or China – their rhetoric is welcome.

“For Twitter to earn the public’s trust, it must be politically neutral,” Musk said. insisted shortly after making his bid to buy the company, “which effectively means upsetting the far right and the far left equally.”

So far, there is little reason for the far right to be upset with Musk’s tenure. Rather the opposite.


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