Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has selected an unusual, attention-grabbing way to announce his long-expected bid to become the Republican challenger in the 2024 presidential election. He plans to officially declare his candidacy using the social media platform Twitter during a scheduled conversation with tech mogul and Twitter owner Elon Musk. 

“We have seen presidential election politics evolve from Barack Obama’s innovative use of digital and social media advertising and organizing in 2012, through Donald Trump’s use of social media as a primary communication method in his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, and now, in 2023, a presidential candidate strategizing to make a campaign announcement on Twitter,” said Virginia Tech media expert Megan Duncan. “I’ll be watching how this turn in electoral campaign strategies hurts or helps democracy.”

Q: How has Elon Musk made an event like this announcement possible?

“Musk has shown in his months of ownership of Twitter he’s unafraid to be perceived by the audience as aligned with conservatives and right-wing politics. This is the most prominent example of his decisions to use his platform in for promotion of politics he chooses, without transparency about the company policies on political ‘airtime’ nor the decision-making process. What a turnabout only five months after Musk lifted Twitter’s ban on political advertising!”

Q: What advantage could there be for DeSantis?

“This decision seems to indicate that DeSantis thinks his supporters substantially overlap with the audience of Twitter, and that he wants his campaign image to be aligned with Musk and with David Sacks, the entrepreneur who is Musk’s friend, DeSantis’ ally, and host of the Twitter Spaces launch event. One should note that active Twitter users make up 23% of the United States’ population. Further, DeSantis’s key opponent in primary elections, Trump, owns a competing social platform and chooses not to be on Twitter.” 

Q: What risks and rewards could this launch entail for Twitter?

“The benefit is clearly more people talking about, debating about, and thinking about Twitter as top-of-mind platform central to electoral politics. The downside foremost includes more closely aligning Twitter with right-wing politics and alienating both those who want to be politically neutral, such as many journalists, as well as those who are politically left-wing.”

Q: What concerns could the DeSantis campaign launch raise for democracy?

“I think this is a prototypical example that shows governments need to seriously consider social media when crafting policies that keep elections transparent and fair. For example, audiences and voters don’t know the terms of this partnership between a social media platform and a candidate, nor whether this type of partnership is available for other candidates.”

About Duncan 
Megan Duncan is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on how partisans judge the credibility of and engage with the news. Using survey-embedded experiments, surveys, and other quantitative methods, she’s interested in knowing more about audiences, their perceptions of the news, how they form opinions, and how to use this knowledge to make democracy stronger.  

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