May 27, 2024

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his candidacy for president during a Twitter audio event on Wednesday in what should have been a triumphant moment for Twitter owner Elon Musk.

Instead, the event kicked off with 20-plus minutes of technical glitches, hot mic moments, and drowned-out and mid-speak conversations, before the livestream abruptly dropped. Minutes later, the live broadcast resumed, with thousands of listeners trying to tune in. Mr. DeSantis did not say a word at the time.

“That’s crazy, sorry,” Mr Musk said.

Behind Twitter Space, the social network’s audio-only livestream, is a company that’s undergone major changes in recent months. Since Mr. Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion last year, he has reshaped it by cutting more than 75% of its workforce, changing the platform’s speech rules and restoring suspended users. Outages have been increasing, as have bugs that reduce Twitter’s usability.

Wednesday’s technical problems showed that Twitter’s operations were far from seamless, turning what should have been a big deal for Mr. Musk into an embarrassing one.

Mr. DeSantis’ announcement provides an opportunity for Mr. Musk, an unpredictable executive with interests in many fields, to promote his multiple agendas. They include the political presence of the billionaire, who has spent years flirting with right-wing accounts and politics on Twitter but has never embraced a presidential candidate the way he has with Republican governors. This is supposed to be a way for Mr. Musk to advance his business interests by prominence to Twitter, which he is trying to reverse.

Yet as the live Twitter audio paused, the reaction — including Twitter itself — was shock and disdain for what should have been a well-crafted presidential campaign announcement. The #Desaster hashtag appeared in many posts. Others blasted the failure, with President Biden’s personal @JoeBiden account tweeting a donation link with the words “this link works.”

David Sacks, a technology executive who moderated the audio event with Mr. DeSantis and a confidant of Mr. Musk’s, tried to downplay the technical issues.

“We’ve got so many people here that we’re kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign,” he said during the first live stream, which was intermittent.

Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Inside Twitter, employees were alarmed by Musk’s turn to politics and the social media site’s ability to handle the influx of traffic, three employees said. The event with Mr. DeSantis was not planned for what it called a “site reliability issue,” and staff were prepared to do what they could to keep the social network running, two people familiar with the matter said.

More than 600,000 listeners joined the audio event when it began around 6 p.m. ET, causing Twitter’s mobile app and website to malfunction or crash, two employees said. Mr. Musk later said his account, which had 140 million followers and promoted and launched the livestream, attracted too many listeners for Twitter’s systems to handle them.

Twitter’s systems were restored, but the restarted DeSantis live stream had a smaller audience of about 275,000 listeners, employees said.

Even before the outage, the incident had drawn criticism, especially after Mr. Musk said Twitter was a politically neutral platform. Michael Santoro, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, said the incident “undermines” claims of impartiality.

“As the owner of the company, he is using the primary resources and power of the company and outreach to make any point,” Mr. Santoro said of Mr. Musk.

But others said they were not surprised that Mr Musk was trying to shape the social platform in his own image and beliefs.

Mr. Musk, a self-described moderate, has voted for Democratic presidential candidates including Barack Obama and Mr. Biden. But in recent years he has swung to the right, as detailed on his Twitter profile. He has criticized what he called a “clear-headed virus” affecting democratic politics, shared right-wing conspiracy theories and repeatedly praised Mr. DeSantis for nearly a year.

Jason Goldman, Twitter’s former vice president of product, likened Mr. Musk’s move with Twitter to creating an echo chamber that puts his own interests front and center.

“He’s the host, and the content that comes up and promotes is his favorite content,” Mr. Goldman said.

Concerns about Twitter’s reliability have surfaced repeatedly in recent months. After Mr. Musk began laying off thousands of employees last year, many users were so shocked by the layoffs that #RIPTwitter and #GoodbyeTwitter started trending. The company avoided any shutdowns and continued operations, but the number of outages increased.

In February alone, Twitter experienced at least four widespread outages and nine in all of 2022, according to NetBlocks, an organization that tracks internet outages.

Since November, the company’s technology operations have become more volatile, current and former employees said. Musk also ended operations of one of Twitter’s three main data centers, cut the team that worked on the company’s back-end technology, such as servers and cloud storage, and fired the leader in charge of the area.

On Wednesday after the Twitter space restarted, Mr. DeSantis finally got a chance to speak. He delivered his deathbed speech, then praised Mr. Musk for buying Twitter. He also praised Mr. Musk, who has often professed support for free speech, for that commitment, and said the Twitter owner would certainly profit from his investment in the company.

Mr DeSantis said Mr Musk was “an excellent businessman”. He later added that Twitter Spaces “is a great platform.”

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