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Alabama GOP: Does DeSantis on Twitter mean friendlier social media for conservatives?

FILE - Twitter, now X. Corp, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses prior to his talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, May 15, 2023 at the Elysee Palace in Paris.  While shaky and skewered by critics, Twitter’s forum for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to announce his presidential run nevertheless underscored the platform’s unmistakable shift to the right under new owner Elon Musk.  (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool, File) And, FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a fundraising picnic for Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, May 13, 2023, in Sioux Center, Iowa. DeSantis will announce his 2024 presidential campaign in a Twitter Spaces event with Elon Musk on Wednesday, May 24.
Michel Euler/AP
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AP Pool
FILE - Twitter, now X. Corp, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses prior to his talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, May 15, 2023 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. While shaky and skewered by critics, Twitter’s forum for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to announce his presidential run nevertheless underscored the platform’s unmistakable shift to the right under new owner Elon Musk. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool, File)

It’s been about two weeks since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced he’s running for President. The event was hosted on the social media site Twitter Spaces. Here in Alabama, it appears DeSantis’ host Elon Musk is generating more buzz than the candidate.

The Florida Governor’s appearance on Twitter Spaces may have had its share of technical glitches. But, that’s not the focus of the Alabama Republican Party. It’s the fact that Twitter owner Elon Musk hosted DeSantis that’s the big deal.

“No, that's something that we're definitely watching. And we'll wait to see,” said John Wahl, chairman of the Alabama GOP. He’s referring to a possible warming of relations between conservatives and the world of social media. Wahl says the GOP currently feels a little picked on …

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“There is definitely a somewhat of a desire to moderate free speech in our country,” Wahl insists. “And that's obviously very concerning the Republican Party, especially as we see most of the censorship aimed at conservative Republicans.

“I don't believe in anything that he says,” said Randy Kelley, chairman of Alabama’s Democratic Party. He sees the issue of alleged censorship differently.

“What's actually, I think that social media has promoted conservatives and extremists,” Kelley observed. “For example, if you look at the January 6, insurrection, now we're learning how much social media contributed to organizing, these insurrectionists.”

FILE - Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Two people who live outside Tacoma, Wash., have been charged with illegally entering the U.S. Capitol and engaging in disruptive behavior during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Puyallup residents Holly Christensen and her husband, Scott Christensen, are named in charges unsealed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia last month, The Seattle Times reported. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Jose Luis Magana/AP
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FR159526 AP
FILE - Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Two people who live outside Tacoma, Wash., have been charged with illegally entering the U.S. Capitol and engaging in disruptive behavior during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Puyallup residents Holly Christensen and her husband, Scott Christensen, are named in charges unsealed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia last month, The Seattle Times reported. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

But, there are other views when it comes to GOP complaints of suppression on social media…

“I think I think it's fair to some extent, right?” said Doctor Regina Wagner. She teaches political science at the University of Alabama. Wagner agrees that some conservative views are being branded by critics as disinformation. However, she says the blame may fall on a familiar battle cry popularized by former President Donald Trump and his followers.

“I don't trust science, I don't trust the media, I don't trust sort of all these institutions,” said Wagner. “So I'm getting these other facts, and I think they're true, and very often they are not true, right. Not that doesn’t happen with the left.”

Wagner adds that social media heavyweights may not be acting vindictively if they choose to keep what they consider to be disinformation off their platforms.

“Yeah, I mean, I think so if we look at Facebook, for example, I think Facebook actually got into trouble after 2016 for letting a lot of things just bubble up,” Wagner recalled. “And there's a lot of misinformation. And they kind of got pushed back for that.

Ron DeSantis praised billionaire Elon Musk as a champion of free speech during his Presidential campaign kick off event. Professor Wagner says Musk’s record on defending free expression has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.

“There's been this whole blow up recently, where he has censored on behalf of the Turkish Government. Right. So there was just recently he's gotten very upset when when people have pointed this out,” said Wagner. “During the Turkish election, essentially, Twitter said, you know, look, the government asked us to suppress these accounts, and we had to do it.”

Still, John Wahl with the Alabama GOP is waiting to see what happens after the DeSantis’ announcement on Twitter. Specifically, Wahl wants to know two things. Are conservative complaints being heard and are other social media companies becoming friendlier.

“We believe that people should be able to speak, even if they're wrong, they should be able to speak, hear their views,” said Wahl. “And when anyone starts putting their thumb on that scale, and censoring or hiding information, it's just not American.”

But will these changes happen? We gave Dr. Wagner at the University of Alabama’s Political Science Department the last word on that…

“I would think unless you get an Elon Musk figure in there who disagrees, you probably aren't going to see sort of huge shakeups, but I could be wrong,” she said.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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