Failure to launch: Twitter glitches deal double blow to Elon Musk and Ron DeSantis | US elections 2024

The screen kept saying “Preparing to launch”. But this wasn’t one of Elon Musk’s space rockets that soars through the stratosphere and settles into a comfortable orbit. This was one that blew up on the pad in a dazzling ball of flame.

The eccentric billionaire had invited Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, to the somewhat niche Twitter Spaces – a dedicated audio streaming feature on the social media platform – to announce his run for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

For Musk it looked like an easy win in his effort to make Twitter the public square, especially one that attracts rightwing blowhards and steal a march on Fox News. For DeSantis it seemed like a chance to make a bit of political history, show off his tech savvy and poke his rival Donald Trump, once the undisputed world tweeting champion.

Even better, DeSantis could hold court in an audio only format without having to meet and greet real people, famously not his strength. But what liberals may have feared as the ultimate alliance of two anti-woke supervillains proved to carry all the menace of a damp dishcloth.

Once people had got beyond the “What is Twitter Spaces?” stage, they were greeted with blank windows, broken snatches of conversation and other technical glitches.

The site creaked and buckled under the demand of more than half a million users.

Moderator David Sacks, a Republican donor and friend of Musk, tried to find a silver lining: “We’ve got so many people here we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign.”

The debacle was a fresh blow to the credibility of Musk, whose Tesla brand has lost its shine of late and who, having laid off dozens of Twitter staff, seemed to be on the end of divine retribution from the tech gods.

A screengrab of the Twitter Spaces platform with Elon Musk and Ron DeSantis.Pin
A screengrab of the Twitter Spaces platform with Elon Musk and Ron DeSantis. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

It was an even bigger political disaster for DeSantis, who has built the entire theory of his candidacy around the idea that he is an efficient chief executive of Florida who pays attention to detail. Even Trump used to be able to put out 280 characters on Twitter, admittedly often in a seemingly random order.

Comedian Trevor Noah once likened DeSantis to Terminator 2, an upgrade on the Trump model that was more efficient and more lethal. But here was the robot in meltdown with smoke pouring out of its ears.

Soon, with delicious irony, the phrase “Failure to Launch” was trending on Twitter itself, while one headline observed: “Ron’s Desaster.” Both Trump and Joe Biden seized on the flop to score points and raise funds. A Trump campaign spokesperson said: “Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that’s just the candidate!”

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After nearly half an hour of malfunctions, DeSantis finally got going. He declared: “I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback.” But by then thousands of people had given up and tuned out.

The governor went to have a dig at Trump. “Government is not entertainment,” he said. “It’s not about building a brand or virtue signaling.”

Predictably he griped about coronavirus pandemic measures and the media. An unhealthy chunk of the conversation was devoted to promoting Twitter. The governor said: “I think what was done with Twitter was really significant for the future of our country.”

And improbably at the end he said of crash prone Twitter Spaces: “This is a great platform.”

The sorry experience did little to suggest that Musk knows how to run a social media platform or that DeSantis is capable of governing a global superpower armed with nuclear weapons.

Perhaps their sole consolation is that they had both been upstaged in the evening news bulletins by the death of rock’n’roller Tina Turner at the age of 83. They could have done worse than fill their long silences with her posthumous plea: We Don’t Need Another Hero.

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