scorecardMusk holds Twitter users hostage with Tucker Carlson and Ron DeSantis stunts
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Musk holds Twitter users hostage with Tucker Carlson and Ron DeSantis stunts

Hasan Chowdhury   

Musk holds Twitter users hostage with Tucker Carlson and Ron DeSantis stunts
Tech2 min read
  • Elon Musk's free speech town square feels more like a mob heist.
  • Millions of Twitter users don't care about Tucker Carlson or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Good heist movies have a few things in common: a scheming ringleader, devoted misfits, a high-risk hostage situation, and an all-round sense of chaos. So went Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign launch on Twitter.

The Florida Gov. made his announcement on a Twitter Spaces call on Wednesday, hosted by Elon Musk and his longtime ally, libertarian venture capitalist David Sacks. The direction of travel was pretty clear.

"We must restore sanity to our nation," DeSantis said, unchallenged. "Replacing the woke mind virus with reality, facts, and enduring principles."

It's a culminating moment for Musk and his yes-men, who see Twitter as a way to foist their vision of free speech on its unsuspecting user base. Incoming CEO Linda Yaccarino looks like an additional yes-woman.

"Tonight's reflection — we just heard a rare and unscripted conversation, on a range of important topics, with a Presidential candidate — all launched on Twitter," she tweeted Wednesday night. "That's historical. Let's do more. Freedom of speech is priceless."

Musk's cabal is in control now

When Musk completed his take-private deal for Twitter in October, his primary reason for doing so was, in his words, to build "a common digital town square."

But Musk and Sacks' evident glee during the DeSantis call made clear that Twitter is more like a playground — a hierarchy ruled by loud, bullying voices.

Sacks posed light questions to DeSantis on loaded topics such as government policies instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his ongoing feud with Disney. The governor's responses were left unchecked. "I think we need a cool-headed ruthless assassin to take on the woke mob," Sacks said.

Twitter's approximately 360 million users — many of whom are not in the US — are being held hostage to Musk's vision for the app, and the direction of travel is clear. Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson is simultaneously preparing to launch his new primetime show on the platform aimed at getting back to his version of the truth. "At the most basic level, the news you consume is a lie," Carlson said.

If Carlson brings his Fox News shtick along with him, unchecked narratives look likely to become a fixture of the app.

Musk-owned Twitter could succeed where right-wing apps failed

Other apps have come along before and tried to offer a version of what Musk's Twitter is now doing. Donald Trump's Twitter rival Truth Social failed to gain a significant following; so too has right-wing video site Rumble.

But Twitter is far bigger and more important to its users and there is still no direct competition for its mix of expert networks, fast news, and updates on current affairs. There a number of alternatives to Twitter cropping up — but recreating those network effects is famously tough.

That means Twitter users will probably stay put – even if it increasingly feels like a hostage situation.