Elon Musk has put his position as Twitter’s chief to the public test.
In a Twitter poll on Sunday evening (Dec. 18), a few hours after watching the World Cup final in Qatar—Musk asked his 122 million followers whether or not he should step down as head of Twitter. “I will abide by the results of this poll,” he wrote.
Eight hours and 14 million votes later, nearly 57% wanted him to quit.
A successor isn’t lined up. “The question is not finding a CEO, the question is finding a CEO who can keep Twitter alive,” Musk tweeted.
When Lex Fridman, research scientist at MIT, volunteered to take up the job, Musk responded, “you have to invest your life savings in Twitter and it has been in the fast lane to bankruptcy since May. Still want the job?”
As CEOs don’t usually have to invest in the company they lead, Musk’s comment suggests it’s not just Twitter’s leadership that he’s having second thoughts about, but its ownership, too. This wouldn’t be surprising seen as Musk spent months trying, and ultimately failing, to pull out of the acquisition.
Twitter’s policy changes will be put to polls, Musk says
The magnate, who also owns and is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, concluded his $44 billion Twitter deal in October, and started implementing radical changes soon afterwards. This involved measures such as cutting 50% of the workforce, including the trust and safety advisory council; making people sleep at the office; introducing, suspending, and then reintroducing a paid subscription for a verification badge.
While Musk didn’t put his name on emails firing staff, which simply bore “Twitter” as their signature, policy changes have been announced directly from his account. For instance, last week, Musk said the @ElonJet account was suspended for tracking his private jet—information that’s publicly available—to then announce a policy tweak to remove accounts doxxing people by sharing live locations. The platform also banned several journalists, claiming they had exposed the coordinates of Musk and his family. (Many have had their accounts reinstated since.)
Yesterday (Dec. 15), Twitter announced it would shut down accounts solely designed to promote other social media platforms—specifically ones that link off to or contain usernames from platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Nostr and Post, the company said in a tweet thread and blogpost, which have both been deleted. Paul Graham, a reputed venture capitalist whose been pro-Musk during the Twitter takeover, was among those temporarily suspended for talking about Mastodon.
Twitter’s founder and former boss, Jack Dorsey, who has invested in Nostr, questioned the decision, saying that it “doesn’t make sense.” Noam Bardin, the boss of Post, tweeted that people can add all social media links to their profile on that platform “since none of us only use one platform” and “Freedom = Choice.”
As criticism of the decision mounted, Musk made a partial u-turn. He declared occasional, casual mentions of other social media are fine, but relentless advertising is not. He then appeared to apologize for rushing the decision, adding that major policy changes would be voted on. Presumably, these votes would be tweeted from his account, as is one about his role as CEO, posted just three minutes after the purported apology.
Twitter polls aren’t precise or prudent
Musk has often used Twitter polls to sound the opinion of his followers In November 2021, he sold off more than $5 billion worth of Tesla shares after running a poll. A year later, as self-styled chief twit, it’s how he decided Donald Trump should have his Twitter account back up and running, replying “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” to the poll, a Latin phrase, which means “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” Soon after, he repeated the phrase when asking if Twitter should extend “general amnesty” to suspended accounts.
The voice of the people won’t always match with one’s own. After a poll delivered a majority of votes in favor of immediately reinstating the suspended journalists’ accounts, Musk initially called for a re-run on the basis of too many options. When a second poll with just two answers still delivered a majority in favor of immediately reinstating the accounts, he finally acknowledged that “the people have spoken.”
Twitter polls might work as a way to sound people’s opinions of a certain topic, but are not the best decision-making tool, as they are bound to reflect the views of a restricted group of people rather than a representative sample of the population.
YouGov, which ran nine similar surveys to Musk’s tweets (albeit with a lag of a few weeks), found big deviations in the results. Musk’s polls will always draw more attention and traction from his own followers, whose views typically don’t mirror wider public sentiment. “Precise, Twitter polls are not,” Washington Post columnist Philip Bump wrote.
The real meaning of Vox Populi, Vox Dei
As one Twitter user pointed out, Musk’s oft-used Latin phrase does not stand alone. It comes from a quote by an 8th century scholar, Alcuin of York, that actually warns against relying on majority decision-making.
Full quote: “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.”
Translation: “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”
So either Musk is unaware of the complete phrase, or he enjoys the riotouness of the crowd, and perhaps should not be listened to.
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