Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign launch on Twitter Spaces was hyped by Elon Musk as “groundbreaking”, and extensively advertised as a new frontier for “free speech” in politics. Instead, the results were a disaster.
The event, which marked the first time a major candidate had announced their run for president on social media, marked Twitter’s latest attempt to draw more users and create profit as financial challenges mount. Since taking over the social network, laying off upwards of 80% of staff, Musk’s company has experienced a rise in technical glitches and errors.
That struggling system experienced its greatest stress test yet with Wednesday’s stream, which at 6.20pm ET had nearly 600,000 listeners tuned into Spaces, Twitter’s dedicated audio streaming feature. By Musk’s own count, it was gaining 50,000 more a minute. As the livestream began, the audio line experienced feedback, outages and garbled audio. Many users reported their Twitter apps crashing or logging them out as they tried to join the stream.
The glitches piled on for an excruciating 20 minutes. David Sacks, the Republican donor and friend of Elon Musk moderating the audio event, got a few sentences in before the stream collapsed. He introduced Musk, and praised DeSantis for keeping Florida open during Covid. Then the feed cut again. And again. And again.
“We got so many people here that we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign,” said Sacks, followed by Musk stating in the background that he was working to allocate more server capacity. The feed then cut once more and participants received a notice: “This space has ended.”
Finally, nearly 25 minutes after the intended start time, the livestream was underway – with significantly fewer listeners than before, at approximately 40,000 (numbers later climbed back to over 100,000 but did not reach the original listening figures). Musk acknowledged that the previous stream had “broken the Twitter system” before Sacks awkwardly asked DeSantis if he had an announcement to make.
“I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback,” DeSantis said, reiterating lines from his announcement video. “There is no substitute for victory … we must look forward, not backwards.”
After acknowledging the “technical difficulties”, Sacks asked DeSantis why he chose to launch his candidacy on Twitter rather than TV, to which he responded by praising Musk as a “free speech advocate”.
“What was done with Twitter is really significant for the future of our country,” he said.
Musk has billed himself as a “free speech absolutist” and has at times aligned himself with rightwing conspiracy theorists and hate speech. Upon taking over Twitter, he reinstated the account of Donald Trump and others who had been banned from the platform for violating policies. As the 2024 election cycle is underway, Musk has attempted to position Twitter as a place “where all voices are heard”, promising to host Republican and Democrat candidates at events like Wednesday’s.
But the spectacle of the DeSantis launch proved just how ambitious, and potentially implausible, that goal remains, with the company facing ongoing concern of physical collapse due to lack of staffing and infrastructural support, including the closure of a number of data centers. Musk has already attempted to spin the tech disaster as a win for the company, stating that there was so much interest in the stream that it “broke the internet”.
Hobbling through the livestream, Musk referenced his $44bn purchase of the platform: “Twitter was indeed expensive, but free speech is priceless.”
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