In year In 798, the famous scholar Alcuin of York wrote a letter to Charlemagne, king of the Franks and Lombards, to (as was his wont) advise the powerful king on state affairs. Writing in Latin, he said to his king and patron: Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit“And one should not listen to those people who insist that the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riot of the crowd is always very close to madness.”
I wonder if the old monk will be pleased with how many new enthusiastic fans he has gained on Twitter. A lot of people cited these words as proof that Elon Musk is now shameful call “vox populi, vox Dei” after his Twitter polls, which supposedly determine the implementation of his policies on the platform, does not know. “He stupidly can’t quote the whole sentence! It was a warning!” they cry.
But like many quasi-scientific tweets, they are missing important context. Although Alcuin is often credited with this phrase, it is clear that he used a common aphorism. And his goal was decidedly anti-democratic. As early 20th-century writer Rolf Barlow Page put it: his own book on the subject: “Thus, Alcuin, prescribing to the masters the need to be just and merciful towards the people, felt that the latter should obey a just ruler with a grateful heart.”
There is a suspicion that Musk might like this interpretation. Why not? He is not a Democrat. A more modern vox populi reference might be better suited to Musk’s Potemkin plebiscites. In the 1976 film Networkthe late night news anchor goes crazy and finds a gold mine of ratings, becoming “the mad prophet of the airwaves”. His show turns into a real carnival, with one of the spin-offs being Vox Populi, a segment showing the latest opinion polls. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky envisioned a lot of cable news sins just over the horizon, as well as a bit of social media and its impulsive, libidinal urges thinly disguised by data. Musk’s appeal to vox populi after his polls is an almost too perfect response to Networka nightly carnival of news: an opinion poll without any methodology, masquerading as a meaningful vote on the future of the state.
I don’t think However, social networks are doomed to this. If the Internet has a future, then we need to figure out how to make democracy here in an orderly way. Whatever else is said about Musk’s disastrous, fascist-promoting Twitter tenure, it serves as a reminder that other, slightly more benevolent dictatorships that run social media are also down – the previous incarnation of Twitter, as well as Facebook and others. led us to one catastrophe after another, and the resentment that this builds up makes the public vulnerable to exploitation by a capitalist businessman who uses the aesthetics of democracy to mask his own imperial power.
But before we can get the prospect of a more robust solution, it’s worth understanding why Twitter polls are such quackery.
First, Musk’s polls are more like push polls – polls designed to get a specific result using manipulative or biased questions. In his first of two unblocking polls for several journalists he suspended from the site for reporting critically about it, he phrased the question as follows: “Unblock accounts that doxed my exact location in real time: now, tomorrow, in 7 days”. now, longer? When none of the four options scored more than 50 percent, he canceled the poll even though “now” won the majority with 43 percent. The next poll offered only two options: now or in seven days. But the brazen question remained, presenting as an axiom that the journalists recorded his exact location, although none of them did. It should be obvious why such a frame is forced and condemned by authoritative sociologists and statisticians.