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DeSantis’s Twitter Event Falls Short of the Reach of Past Live Streams

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DeSantis’s Twitter Event Falls Short of the Reach of Past Live Streams

Within hours of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida announcing his presidential run on Twitter on Wednesday, participants in the audio event celebrated the achievement.

David Sacks, a venture capitalist who moderated the Twitter conversation, declared it “by far the biggest room ever held on social media.” After the event, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said in a podcast interview that he thought by later that day “probably over 10 million people” would have “watched” the event, called a Twitter Space, or a recording of it.

They were wrong on both counts.

According to Twitter’s metrics, the audio event — which was initially marred by more than 20 minutes of technical glitches before it was restarted — garnered a high of about 300,000 concurrent listeners, or those who simultaneously tuned in as Mr. DeSantis made his announcement. As of Thursday, a total of 3.4 million people had listened to the Space or a recording of it, according to Twitter’s numbers.

Those figures fell short of reaching 10 million people and also were far from being “the biggest room on social media” compared with past live streams.


Consider that a 2016 Facebook Live event, featuring two BuzzFeed employees placing rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded, drew more than 800,000 concurrent viewers and a total of five million views within hours of its conclusion. The 2017 livestream of a pregnant giraffe on YouTube brought in five million viewers a day.

The event with Mr. DeSantis was even dwarfed by past audio live streams on Twitter. Last month, more than three million people at one point concurrently listened to an interview of Elon Musk, Twitter’s owner, by a BBC reporter in a Twitter Space, according to the company’s numbers. A recording of that Space said 2.6 million listeners ultimately “tuned in.” (Twitter did not explain the discrepancy between the concurrent listener count and the “tuned in” figure.)

“Getting a few hundred thousand people to do something for some number of minutes is not that big of a deal,” said Brian Wieser, a longtime media analyst who runs the Madison and Wall strategic advisory firm. “I’m not quite sure that using Twitter to announce a presidential campaign was the most impactful environment, though maybe Twitter could become that.”

Determining the reach and audience for Mr. DeSantis’s announcement on Twitter is significant because the online event had been heralded as a modern way of making political proclamations, bypassing traditional media such as cable news and network television. Yet the initial numbers from Twitter raise questions about whether any presidential candidate can ignore traditional media for their big campaign announcements.

Although television does not generally pull in the same numbers that it did a decade ago, some political events that are broadcast live still garner large audiences. When President Biden delivered his State of the Union address on Feb. 7, for instance, the speech was aired live to 27.3 million people watching on 16 TV networks, according to Nielsen.


Representatives for Mr. DeSantis, who followed his Twitter Space by appearing on Fox News, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. Sacks and Mr. Musk also did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

That is not to say that using social media to make political announcements cannot be powerful. Mr. Wieser said that with so much media fragmentation happening, there was no unifying platform and that the quality of the audience was often a motivating factor for politicians. Perhaps, he said, Mr. DeSantis’s goal was not reaching the most people, but reaching those who would be best convinced to donate to him or help spread his message.

Comparing social media’s reach with television broadcasts also can be difficult. A “unique” view on social media represents each individual account that visits a post or other content, rather than the number of times it is visited. Such views do not necessarily come from humans because bot activity might be involved, and do not denote whether a viewer tuned in for half a second or half an hour. By contrast, TV ratings represent the average number of viewers across a longer period, Mr. Wieser said.

Twitter also does not explain the difference in how it counts listeners on its live streams and those who have listened to recordings of Twitter Spaces.

“The reach on Twitter is artificial: People tune in and out more quickly, they’re likely watching on a mobile device that just isn’t as effective in getting people’s attention as a large TV set,” said Ross Benes, a senior analyst with Insider Intelligence who covers digital video, TV and streaming.


After the conclusion of the Twitter Space on Wednesday with Mr. DeSantis, traditional media poked fun at the technical glitches of the event. When Mr. DeSantis appeared on Fox News, Trey Gowdy, the host, quipped, “Fox News will not crash during this interview.” The segment drew nearly two million viewers.

On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis also tried to make light of the Twitter Space’s technical problems. His campaign sent out fund-raising emails and showcased T-shirts saying the presidential candidate “broke the internet.”

Nicholas Nehamas and John Koblin contributed reporting.

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Will a Dollar General Ruin a Rural Crossroads?

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Will a Dollar General Ruin a Rural Crossroads?

Anne Hartley’s brick house in Ebony, Va., overlooks windswept fields, a Methodist church, a general store and the intersection of two country roads, a pastoral setting that evokes an Edward Hopper painting or a faded postcard from the South.

Now this scene is being threatened, Ms. Hartley said, by a plan to build what every small American town seems to have: a Dollar General.

A descendant of one of Ebony’s founding families, Ms. Hartley says the discount store — which would be built next to her home — will create traffic problems in the area, with people drawn to the brand’s signature yellow sign and its aisles filled with inexpensive food and household staples.

Beyond the store itself, Ms. Hartley and many others with ties to Ebony think it will open the door to additional development that will spoil the character of their tiny, rural community of about 230 people. The name of their website and the rallying cry for their campaign against the Dollar General is “Keep Ebony Country.”

“We don’t want over-commercialization to destroy the integrity of the community,” Ms. Hartley said.


Jerry Jones also has strong feelings about Dollar General. He, too, grew up in Ebony and, for several years, was Ms. Hartley’s classmate at the local public school. He went on to manage grocery stores around southern Virginia and later owned a gas station in Ebony that sold freshly baked biscuits and deep-fried baloney burgers.

Mostly retired now, Mr. Jones owns the land where the Dollar General would be built. He said the store would provide the county’s residents a convenient and affordable place to shop, while also generating sorely needed tax revenue.

“You still need to have that balance between the people with nicer things and the people who live paycheck to paycheck,” Mr. Jones said. “To me, Dollar General fits right in with that.”

The dispute in Ebony, which has been going on for more than three years, is about planning and zoning, but it also touches on a deeper issue simmering in many parts of rural America, whether the disputes are about cellphone towers or snowmobile trails. What does “country” mean to different people in a small community?

In most places, Dollar General is winning. Across the United States, the company has made an aggressive push to permeate thousands of far-flung or impoverished communities with stores that, along with low prices, are criticized for their unhealthy food offerings and low-paid employees.


An increasing number of these proposed dollar stores are leading to disputes, generating opponents in small towns and struggling cities. The retailer has been assailed by a think tank for the negative effects it has on small businesses and by the Biden administration for the unkempt condition of its stores.

Yet, a vast majority of the proposed dollar stores are being built. One in three stores that opened in the United States in 2022 was a dollar store.

Those who oppose the proposed Dollar General in Ebony are trying to buck the trend.

About 90 miles south of Richmond, Ebony sits on the edge of Lake Gaston and is a haven for second homes that serve as an important tax base. Ebony is part of Brunswick County, once a hub for tobacco farming, where the median household income is about $49,600, far below the statewide median of $80,600. More than half the county’s population is Black.

The five-member Brunswick County Board of Supervisors approved a zoning change that would allow the store to be built in a 3-to-2 vote.


The supervisors who voted to approve the store declined to comment, citing a lawsuit that Ms. Hartley and other opponents filed challenging their decision.

In a statement, Dollar General said that it offered fresh produces in thousands of stores and provided a “safe work environment” and “competitive wages.”

“We regularly hear from communities, particularly in rural areas, asking us to bring a Dollar General to their hometown,” the company added. “We understand a Dollar General would be welcomed by many Ebony residents and hope to be able to serve that community.”

Many of the opponents of the store are driven by their appreciation for Ebony’s past and what they hope can be preserved. And some relative newcomers to the community are sympathetic to their argument. Mohamed Abouemara moved to southern Virginia from New York to operate convenience stores and has run the Ebony General Store for nine years.

He said his store, where locals can socialize and buy hot food, played an important role in a rural community.


A dollar store, he said, would significantly hurt his business. “Jerry is a friend of mine,” Mr. Abouemara said of Mr. Jones. “I am not angry at him. But if he still owned his store, he would not let a Dollar General come here.”

Ms. Hartley is a meticulous keeper of family and Ebony history. Her family has owned land in the area for generations, and her great-grandfather named the community in the late 1800s after a black horse called Ebony.

The family also ran a local store. When Ms. Hartley was growing up in Ebony in the 1960s, her father operated a business, which had a butcher shop, a barbershop and a mill in the back. Ms. Hartley helped her parents in the store when she was still a child, and she remembers her father working long hours, from early in the morning until late in the evening. “It was the center of our family life,” she said of small-town retailing.

Ms. Hartley attended the University of North Carolina, where she majored in math and later worked as a computer programmer, a rare position for a woman in the 1970s and ’80s and a point of pride for her.

She now owns her family’s house in Ebony, where family photos, spanning many generations, cover the walls and side tables.


Ms. Hartley’s primary residence is in Chapel Hill, N.C., about 90 miles south, but she regularly visits the house in Ebony.

Ms. Hartley says she is intent on protecting a rural intersection from a box store for the good of a community and local economy, which is seeking to boost tourism

Her lawsuit argues that the county has violated its own comprehensive plan that calls out the importance of the area’s scenic landscapes. The county has said in court papers that the plan is merely meant as a guide for development.

Dozens of local residents and people with roots in Ebony have mobilized against the development as part of the Ebony Preservation Group. They have raised donations to support their legal fight and lobbied the state to have the community considered to be part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Elizabeth Nash Horne, whose parents and grandparents are buried in a cemetery next to the proposed store, said a chain retailer in Ebony was “just unnecessary.” There are already three existing dollar stores only a few miles from Ebony.


Some say they recognize that the county needs tax revenue. “But are we going to sell our soul for anything that comes along?” said Bobby Conner, who grew up in Ebony and now works on tourism initiatives for Brunswick County.

The main route into Ebony from the interstate is Route 903, a two-lane road lined by billboards advertising real estate that eventually opens up into farm fields and pine groves.

Route 903 comes to an intersection in Ebony where there is a gas station on one side of the road and, on the other, the Ebony General Store, a dimly lit warren of canned vegetables and soda bottles where the smell of fried catfish mingles with that of steaming hot dogs.

Sid Cutts, a home builder who has developed properties on Lake Gaston, said Ebony and other historic-looking crossroads were becoming increasingly rare in the South.

“I use the term rural elegance,” Mr. Cutts said in describing Ebony.


Mr. Cutts said his clients from larger cities who were building lake houses were important to the community because they spent money at the local businesses. But they are seeking the down-home charm they can find at the long-running Ebony General Store, he said, not another Dollar General.

Mr. Jones says he, too, has Ebony’s best interest at heart in seeking to bring a Dollar General to the community.

Mr. Jones’s father and grandfather bought land in Ebony in the 1950s and many members of his family still live in Ebony. Several of them are neighbors of Ms. Hartley.

Mr. Jones did not go to college, but he worked his way up through A.&P., managing several stores in Virginia.

In the 1990s, Mr. Jones built a gas station and convenience store across from the Ebony General Store.


He sold his store in 2005 and now lives in a nearby town, though he regularly farms land in Ebony. Mr. Jones said he didn’t understand how putting a third business in a well-trafficked intersection would destroy Ebony’s rural character.

“What character do they really want to save?” he said. “I am still going to be out there on my tractor. None of that is going to change one iota. I just won’t have to drive as far to get a cold drink or a Pop-Tart.”

Mr. Jones’s aunt Betty Lett lives across the street from where the store would be built. She thinks a dollar store would bring new excitement to Ebony.

“I am pure country,” Ms. Lett said one afternoon while sitting across from Mr. Jones in her living room. An antique doll perched on a swing hung from the ceiling.

Mr. Jones shrugged off the criticisms of dollar stores — that their aisles and dumpsters outside are a mess and that their employees underpaid. He pointed out that the hourly minimum wage in Virginia is $12.


“I never even made it to $10 an hour,” said Ms. Lett, who retired in 2007, after four decades of factory and distribution center work. “I should go back to work,” she joked.

Shaunton Taylor, who stopped to fill up on gas at the Ebony General Store one afternoon, said she would still shop there even if a dollar store came along.

Ms. Taylor lives in a home on a family homestead, three miles from the site of the proposed Dollar General. The homestead was first inhabited by her great-grandparents, who were farmers.

“I am open-minded about new things, especially in a rural area,” said Ms Taylor, who works at a nursing home and also writes poetry. “You have to accept anything new.”

This year, Ms. Hartley asked for the Virginia Supreme Court to hear the case, arguing that the issue of how a county interprets its comprehensive plan would “affect all Virginians for years to come.” She is confident that her group will eventually prevail.


In the meantime, Ms. Hartley reached out to Mr. Jones with an offer: She told him that a supporter of her group would match whatever the developer of the Dollar General store would pay Mr. Jones for the property — about $88,000, Mr. Jones said.

But Mr. Jones declined. His idea and the preservation group’s idea for what should happen with the land, he said, “just don’t match.”

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Column: I quit Twitter for a week. I didn’t miss it. Be worried, Elon Musk

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Column: I quit Twitter for a week. I didn’t miss it. Be worried, Elon Musk

Last month, my bosses suggested I quit Twitter for a week. Completely. I would not be able to log on, let alone tweet or retweet others or check for direct messages.

It might seem easy to do, gentle reader. But there are Twitter users, and then there’s me.

I joined the social media platform in 2008, and it’s been one giant roll in the proverbial mud for me ever since. I love its immediacy, its randomness, its easy interface, its chaos.

For the past 15 years, Twitter has been one of the first things I check when I get up in the morning. I check it before I go to bed. I check it when I have down time. I check and check and check, even though I no longer have a blue check mark that designated me as, well, me.

My wife and my bosses keep telling me to not waste so much time tweeting — over 1,000 times in April alone. Waste of time, my behind. I’ve gained friends and followers and writing gigs — arguably, this job! — from my torrent of tweets. Great columns originated from tossed-off thoughts that went viral — the legacy of the late, legendary Mexican singer Juan Gabriel. Why In-N-Out is overrated. The importance of loquats in Southern California.


Twitter has also been a consistent digital banana peel for me. Haters of the alt-loser and wokoso persuasion have sent around out-of-context postings to try and get me in trouble. I lash out at people for free instead of channeling my ire into my columnas, which understandably annoys my jefes. App administrators suspended me twice for allegedly offensive tweets — once, for telling a guy that he had a nopal en la frente (a cactus growing on the forehead, which in Mexican Spanish means you’re a hick), and another time for making fun of a conservative activist in Orange County for the community college he attended.

Not only have I stuck around, but Twitter is now the only social media platform I consistently use, even as many of my friends have deleted their accounts because of owner Elon Musk. I stuck around because I believed the billionaire when he vowed upon purchasing the company last year to improve the user experience and take Twitter back to its roots as a worldwide town square instead of the sewer of hate and spam it has devolved into since the Trump presidency.

When I privately told my friends about my Twitter fast, they thought I was so addicted that I would buckle within hours and log back on. Shows how much they know me! There was no drama, no painful withdrawal like Ewan McGregor in “Trainspotting.” But, like all addicts, I achieved a moment of clarity:

The break made me realize how inconsequential Twitter ultimately is.

If fans like Gustavo Arellano are starting to doubt whether Twitter is worthwhile, it’s not a bright future for Elon Musk’s company.


(Hannibal Hanschke / Associated Press)

At its best, Twitter makes you feel connected to the world in an instantaneous way that rivals like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok can’t match. Those platforms are simply too thought out, too intentional, too much hassle, when all you want to do is fire off a 140-character thought or a goofy GIF. Twitter is all about the ramble, the random, the rants — how you talk with friends in real life.

And that was the thing I quickly realized during my break: I could replicate Twitter in real life by, well, living in real life.

When I had a sudden thought to share, I told it to my wife or texted it to my friends. When I wanted to know what was going on in the world, I went to the home page of this paper and our contemporaries or turned on CNN. If I wanted the latest gossip, I called up sources. Honestly, the only thing I couldn’t replicate was a five-years-and-counting thread where dozens of strangers and I exchange GIFs in a mock conversation. Instead, I texted the GIFs to my friends, who responded in kind.


I’ll admit, I was curious about what was happening in the Twitterverse while I was gone. I wanted to see how the GIF war was going, or laugh at the accounts I follow that focus on sports humor. I wanted to throw out random thoughts to see what people might say — like how I just realized that “I Dream of Jeannie” is a rip-off of “Bewitched” but with a better theme song and more sexist. Or how the frequently ridiculed music artist Pitbull is actually thoughtful and funny, which I found out after listening to his recent interview on Howard Stern’s show.

I wondered what was going on … and moved on.

Forsaking Twitter didn’t win me back any extra time in my life, as my wife and bosses insisted would happen. I ultimately don’t spend that much time tweeting — half an hour a day, maybe, which is less than it takes to do a really pointless task like, say, wash my car. When I returned, I thought my followers would have noticed and asked where had I been.

Just one did.

Worse, the short time away highlighted Twitter’s bugginess, which is nowadays worse than an unchlorinated swimming pool.


Phishing attempts had flooded my inbox. There were more bitcoin solicitations on my timeline than ever before. Responses to my tweets by people I follow didn’t show up on my timeline, while the accounts of trolls I’ve muted were starting to regularly pop up. Twice, I wasn’t able to tweet from my phone but could from my computer. The solution: Log out, then log back in.

What’ll I have to do next to fix my Twitter problems? Blow on its icon on my smartphone, as I did with failing Nintendo cartridges when I was a teenager?

Be worried, Elon. If a fan like me is starting to doubt whether Twitter is worthwhile, it’s not a bright future for your company.

If you want to hold on to your die-hards and win new followers, you need to make Twitter a place where there are no hiccups. You need to embrace what made Twitter so enticing in the first place — quick succinct thoughts, photos and videos delivered seamlessly. Don’t expand the character count or pivot to live audio, the way you laughably did for Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis. Stop spending so much money on weak-salsa trucks or trips to the moon or hyperloops to nowhere. Hire back your engineers, focus on what works and jettison what doesn’t.

If you don’t, Twitter will go the way of MySpace and LiveJournal and all the other internet things that were supposed to change the world and did for a bit — until they didn’t. Right now, it’s a dumpster fire on the Titanic — and I’m about ready for a rowboat to take me far, far away.

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Judge in Disney World Case Steps Aside but Blasts DeSantis’s Lawyers

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Judge in Disney World Case Steps Aside but Blasts DeSantis’s Lawyers

A federal judge in Florida disqualified himself from a court case brought by Disney against Gov. Ron DeSantis, but not before blasting the governor’s legal team for engaging in “rank judge shopping.”

In a ruling late Thursday, Mark E. Walker, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, said he would no longer preside over the case, filed by Disney last month. Disney accused Mr. DeSantis and a board that oversees government services at Disney World of engaging in “a targeted campaign of government retaliation.”

The case was reassigned to Judge Allen C. Winsor, who was appointed to the court in 2019 by President Donald J. Trump.

Lawyers for Mr. DeSantis had sought to disqualify Judge Walker, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, because he twice mentioned Mr. DeSantis’s actions against Disney in unrelated court cases last year. The lawyers contended that Judge Walker’s brief remarks, made as he was posing hypothetical questions, “could reasonably be understood to reflect that the court has prejudged Disney’s retaliation theory here, and therefore create significant doubts about the court’s impartiality.”

Disney lawyers opposed the disqualification request — and Judge Walker agreed with them. He ruled that the cited remarks “cannot raise a substantial doubt about my impartiality in the mind of a fully informed, disinterested lay person.”


But in a surprise, Judge Walker recused himself, saying that he learned last week that a relative of his owned 30 shares of Disney stock.

He said in his ruling that he had no choice but to step aside since his relative’s “financial interest” could be affected by the case. “The size or dollar amount of the third-degree relative’s financial interest is irrelevant,” he wrote.

Disney declined to comment.

In related news on Thursday, Mr. DeSantis appointed Charbel Barakat, a Tampa lawyer and “Jeopardy!” champion, to fill a vacancy on the five-member board that oversees government services at Disney World and is at the center of the fight between the governor and the company. Mr. Barakat will replace Michael A. Sasso, who resigned from the board last week without giving a reason and whose wife, Meredith Sasso, was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court the next day.

Mr. DeSantis and Disney have been sparring since March 2022 over a special tax district that includes Disney World. The fight started when the company criticized a Florida education law that opponents labeled “Don’t Say Gay” because it limits classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation. Disney’s criticism angered Mr. DeSantis, who repeatedly vowed payback.


Since then, Florida legislators, at the urging of Mr. DeSantis, have targeted Disney, the state’s largest taxpayer, with various hostile measures. In February, they gave Mr. DeSantis control over government services at Disney World, ending the company’s ability to self-govern its 25,000-acre resort as if it were a county.

The board members appointed by Mr. DeSantis soon discovered that a previous, Disney-controlled board had approved contracts that locked in a growth plan for the resort. An effort to void those agreements has resulted in dueling lawsuits, with Disney suing Mr. DeSantis and his allies in federal court and the governor’s tax district appointees returning fire in state court.

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