A former Twitter employee may have given a more in-depth look at Elon Musk’s takeover, detailing why he left a top job and sharing some breakaway thoughts about the platform’s new direction now that the tech billionaire has taken over.
Yoel Roth, the former head of Twitter’s trust and safety team who left the company of his own volition, recently wrote an article in The New York Times He details his exit and shares interesting predictions for the platform.
He explained that his team’s role is to formulate the Twitter rules and apply them consistently to the hundreds of millions of tweets per day.
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“In the more than seven years I’ve been at the company, we’ve exposed government-backed troll farms interfering with elections, introduced new tools to contextualize dangerous misinformation, and yes, President Trump banned us from serving,” Roth explained.
Cornell University professor Tarleton Gillespie has called teams like mine “guardians of the Internet.”
“The work of online sanitation is relentlessly controversial.”
Roth went on to recount his brief stint on Post-Musk Twitter.
Since closing the deal on Oct. 27, many of the changes Mr. Musk and his team have implemented have been surprising and troubling to employees and users alike, including rapid layoffs and an ill-fated foray into reinventing Twitter’s verification system.
At the outset and during the acquisition, Musk stressed the importance of “free speech to democracy,” hailing Twitter as a “digital city square where matters vital to the future of humanity are discussed” which many believe means relaxed rules and content moderation.
But Roth said that despite recent office closures, more resignations, the #RIPTwitter trend and questions about whether or not Musk’s “skeleton crew” could install the platform, content moderation has remained “as is” since the acquisition.
“Twitter’s rules continue to prohibit a wide range of ‘legal but egregious’ speech,” Roth explained.
Musk has publicly insisted that the company’s practices and policies have not changed.
Are we just in the early days – or has the absolutist’s position on free speech changed?
“The truth is, even Elon Musk’s brand of radical transformation has inescapable limits.”
One of a series of binding clauses, Roth said, will keep advertisers — who generate 90 percent of the platform’s revenue — along.
“Twitter has no choice but to operate in a way that does not jeopardize the revenue streams that keep the lights on. This has already proven to be a challenge,” according to Roth, claiming that “a wave of racist and anti-Semitic trolling appeared on Twitter” shortly after the deal was struck.
“Careful marketers, including those at General Mills, Audi and Pfizer, have slowed or paused ad spending on the platform, triggering a crisis within the company to protect precious ad revenue,” Roth said.
claimed. Musk ordered the Trust and Safety team to “move aggressively” to remove hate speech content in response.
“Before I left, I shared data about Twitter’s implementation of hateful behavior showing that, by some measures, Twitter was actually safer under Mr. Musk than it was before,” he explained.
“His ability to make unilateral decisions about the site’s future is constrained by a marketing industry he neither controls nor wins.”
Advertisers weren’t the only parties Musk would need to stay happy in his mission to “free the bird,” Roth said.
“Twitter continues to comply with the laws and regulations of the countries in which it operates,” Roth said.
Amid mounting racial slurs on Twitter in the days following the takeover, the EU’s chief platform regulator took to the site to remind Musk that, in Europe, no uncensored free-for-all would be launched.
Members of the US Congress and the Federal Trade Commission also expressed their dissatisfaction with some of the changes.
“Mr. Musk’s tenet of inserting Twitter’s policies into local laws may prompt the company to censor speech it was loath to restrict in the past, including political dissent,” Roth wrote.
Regulators have important tools at their disposal to impose their will on Twitter and on Mr Musk.
Penalties for non-compliance with the Digital Services Act in Europe can reach 6 percent of a company’s annual revenue. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission has shown an increasing willingness to impose large fines for non-compliance with their orders (such as the massive $5 billion fine levied on Facebook in 2019).
Roth also said that the phone and tablet app stores from Apple and Google, which have their own community guidelines, also pose a significant risk to Twitter’s bottom line.
Roth warned that flagging them or violating their terms and conditions, expulsion from the app stores would be “catastrophic”.
As for why Roth left Twitter after surviving a job execution?
“Twitter, whose policies are unilaterally determined by decree, needs little to have a trust and safety function dedicated to its initial development,” he said.
To really understand what Twitter looks like going forward, I encourage looking not only at the choices the company is making but also at how Mr. Musk is making them.
Should it investigate, will the Moderation Council represent more than just the loudest, predominantly American voices complaining about censorship — including, crucially, the roughly 80 percent of Twitter users who reside outside the United States?
Will the company continue to invest in features like Community Notes, which bring Twitter users into the work of platform governance?
Will Mr. Musk’s tweets announcing policy changes become less frequent and abrupt?
One of Musk’s biggest challenges, Roth believes, is balancing his goals with “the practical realities of life at Apple and Google on the Internet.”
“It is not an easy task for the staff who chose to stay,” he said.
“And when I left the company, the calls from the application review teams were already coming in.”
A former senior employee recently tweeted on the platform revealing internal rumors that the “new vision” could include Twitter hosting adult content for subscribers.
“I left because I didn’t know what I was staying for anymore,” said Senior Software Engineer Peter Close.
“Before, I would stay for the people, the vision, and of course the money (let’s be honest). All of those changed drastically or uncertainly.”
In addition, there were rumors that the new vision could be radically different. It’s not just subscription, adult content can be an essential component of subscription offerings.
“This is a big departure and I will not be left behind.”
Close, who also left Twitter on his own terms, said he felt there was “no clear positive trend” for those who remained stuck on the platform.
“So my friends are gone, the vision is blurry, there’s a storm coming and there’s no money going up. What would you do?” Asked.
Originally published as Ex-Employee Reveals Three Reasons Why Musk’s Twitter Didn’t Happen