Technology

opinion | How the Internet Shrunk Musk and DeSantis

If you’d told me a few months ago, right after Elon Musk bought Twitter and Ron DeSantis celebrated a smashing re-election victory, that DeSantis was launching his presidential campaign talking to Musk, I would have thought that intriguingly: The right-leaning billionaire whose rockets and Cars stand out in an economy dominated by apps and financial instruments meets the Republican politician whose real-world victories contrast with Donald Trump’s virtual populism.

The actual launch of DeSantis’ presidential campaign in a “Twitter Spaces” event that crashed repeatedly and played to a smaller audience than he would have claimed by appearing on Fox alone offered the political version of the lesson we’ve been taught over and over again through Musk’s leadership of Twitter: The internet can be a trap.

For the Tesla and SpaceX mogul, the trap was snapped because Musk wanted to attack the groupthink of liberal institutions, and when he saw that groupthink manifested on his favorite social media page, he believed that ownership of Twitter the key to changing public discourse.

But for all its influence, social media is still subservient to other institutions – universities, newspapers, TV stations, film studios and other Internet platforms. Twitter is real life, but only through its relationship to other realities; It does not have the capacity to be a center for discourse, news gathering, or entertainment alone. And many of Musk’s difficulties as Twitter CEO simply reflected an overestimation of social media’s inherent authority and influence.

Hence, he has attempted to sell the privilege of verification, the famous “blue checks”, without acknowledging that they were valued for their association with real-world institutions and depreciate when they merely reflect a Twitter hierarchy. Or he encourages his favorite journalists to publish their short stories and essays on his website if it is not already set up for this type of publication. Or he’s encouraged media personalities like Tucker Carlson, and now politicians like DeSantis, to host shows or give interviews on his platform without having the infrastructure to make it all work.

It’s entirely possible Musk can eventually build out that infrastructure and make Twitter bigger than it is today. But there’s no immediate social media shortcut to the influence he seeks. If you want Twitter to become the world news center, you probably need a Twitter newsroom. If you want Twitter to host presidential candidates, you probably need a Twitter channel that feels like a professional newscast. And as you try to build those things, you have to be careful that the nature of social media doesn’t demean you to the kind of caricatured role — troll rather than tycoon — that tempts everyone on Twitter.

That kind of deterioration was inflicted by the Twitter event on DeSantis, whose rocky start may be forgotten, but who would be wise to learn from what went wrong. There’s an emerging criticism of the Florida governor that suggests his entire persona is too online — that his talk of vigilance, vigilance, vigilance is being blamed on a narrow-minded and internet-based faction within the Republicans, and that he portrays himself as Elizabeth Warren in the Year 2020 whose promise of plans, plans, plans excited the Wok faction but fell flat with ordinary Democratic voters.

I think this criticism is exaggerated. Looking at the polls of Republican primary voters, the culture war seems to be more of a common concern than an elitist fixation, and there is a plausible argument that conflict with the new progressivism is the main thing holding the GOP coalition together .

But it seems true that the conflict with progressivism in the context of social media is more of a boutique flavor and that many anti-Woke conservatives aren’t particularly interested in whether the previous Twitter regime curbed one right or another has. Wing influencers or taking orders from this or that “disinformation” specialist. And it’s also true that whatever Republican alternative the Chief Twit might favor, DeSantis is up against a candidate who can always return to Twitter and rule his feeds like a juggernaut.

By introducing himself in this online space, DeSantis seemed unnecessarily small — smaller than Musk’s presence and Trump’s absence, reduced to the scale of debates on shadow bans and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The Florida governor’s best self-promotion in a primary should be his promise to be more active in real life than Trump, while his claim to be better in actual governance is reflected in his lead in flesh-squeezing and campaign-changing energy.

The good news for DeSantis is that he hasn’t invested billions in a social media company, so after enduring mounting induction, he can escape the trap and walk away — to the crowds, the Klieg lights and that Grass.

For Musk, however, the way out will require either an admission of defeat in that particular area, or a lengthy campaign of innovation that will eventually make Twitter as great as he mistakenly envisioned.

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