Twitter owner Elon Musk’s dictatorial management style could lead his company to unforced errors, content moderation disasters and the degradation of key platform features that help keep vulnerable users safe, according to a former top Twitter official who led content moderation before the company abruptly resigned. this month.
The social media company’s botched rollout of paid verification has made it impossible to stay afloat amid the chaos Musk has brought to Twitter and the prospect of future disasters, “an example of past disaster,” said Yoel Roth, the company’s former chief executive. The site’s integrity during an on-stage interview with journalist Kara Swisher in her first public appearance since leaving Twitter on Nov. 10.
Roth and other colleagues tried to warn Musk of “obvious” problems with his plan to offer a verified checkmark to any user who pays $8 a month. But Musk pressed ahead anyway, leading to a wave of new fake accounts impersonating big brands, athletes and other verified users, which soon forced Twitter to shut down the feature.
“It went off the rails in the way we expected,” Roth said at a conference organized by the Knight Foundation, a journalism nonprofit.
In the early days of his ownership of the company — a period marked by internal turmoil and a revolt by malicious advertisers — the public musings of a top Twitter leader who was in close contact with Musk provide the latest evidence of the billionaire CEO. his guts at virtually everyone’s expense.
There was no explosive confrontation with Musk that led to Roth’s resignation, and the episode involving Twitter’s paid verification feature was just one of many factors that Roth said led to his decision to leave. But the experience exemplified the damage Musk’s freewheeling approach can do, Roth added, likening his final weeks at the company to standing in front of a leaking dam, desperately trying to plug the holes, but knowing something will eventually break through.
In an hour-long interview, Roth warned Musk laissez-faire its approach to content moderation and its lack of a transparent process for creating and enforcing platform policies have made Twitter less secure, in part because there aren’t enough employees who understand that malicious actors are constantly trying to game the system. automated algorithms do not know how to catch.
“People don’t sit still,” he said. “They’re actively developing new ways to be terrible on the Internet.”
He urged Twitter users to monitor key security features such as mute, block and protected tweets as early warning signs of a platform outage.
“If protected tweets stop working, run away,” he said.
In the two weeks since Musk closed the Twitter purchase, Roth has cast himself as a voice of stability and calm at the center of a company undergoing dramatic change. Roth knew that Musk was using it to keep advertisers from leaving the platform by staying with the company. But Roth also suggested that others who haven’t left Twitter could influence Musk and prevent him from making damaging unilateral decisions with “multiple possibilities.”
Even as he spent his first days in the new regime is fighting The “increase in hateful behavior on Twitter” was apparently intended to test Musk’s tolerance for racism and anti-Semitism on the platform.
He shared information about the platform’s progress enforcement effortsand reduced its effect Twitter’s massive layoffs in its content moderation team are less severe in that department than in the broader organization, he said.
On November 9, Roth spoke alongside Musk during a public Twitter Spaces event aimed at persuading advertisers not to flee the platform. In an hour-long session that drew more than 100,000 listeners, including representatives from Adidas, Chevron and other big brands, Roth sounded optimistic about Twitter’s plans to combat hate speech.
The following day, Roth abruptly resigned, joining a number of other senior executives, including Twitter’s chief privacy officer and chief information security officer.
In a subsequent New York Times article, Roth said his reason for leaving was because of Musk’s highly personal and improvisational approach to content moderation. Roth’s essay accused Musk of continuing to “lack legitimacy with his impulsive changes to Twitter rules and his tweet-length statements.”
On Tuesday, Roth said the popular narrative portraying Musk as a villain is false and does not reflect his experiences with him. But, he said, Musk rarely surrounds himself with challengers.
Before Musk took over Twitter, Roth wrote several commitments that would lead to his decision to quit. One constraint that was never reached, he said, was Roth’s refusal to lie for Musk. Another restriction that was eventually reached and which led to the decision to resign was “if Twitter begins to be governed by dictatorial decree rather than politics.”
Roth’s role at Twitter came under intense scrutiny in 2020 after the company added a fact-checking message to false tweets by then-US President Donald Trump.
Roth’s 2016 and 2017 tweets criticizing President Trump and his supporters have been dug up and used to allege that Roth and Twitter are biased against the president.
Roth’s tweets on Election Day 2016 included, “I’m just saying, we’re flying over states that voted for a racist mandarin for a reason.”
Twitter defended Roth at the time, saying, “No one at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it’s unfortunate to see individual employees being targeted for company decisions.”
In October, when Roth was still working at Twitter, Musk was asked about Roth’s old tweets.
“We’ve all had some questionable tweets, me more than most, but I want to make it clear that I support Yoel. I think he has high integrity and we all have the right to our political beliefs,” Musk said he tweeted.
Roth also became Twitter’s personal face and target of harassment, saying then-CEO Jack Dorsey was wrong after the company decided to suppress a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden.
“It has been widely reported that I personally led the suppression of the Hunter Biden story. This is not true. That’s absolutely, unequivocally untrue,” Roth told Swisher on Tuesday.
Roth said he did not think it was appropriate to remove the content from Twitter, but at the time the story bore the hallmarks of a hack and leak operation. Roth also said Tuesday that, in retrospect, it was a mistake to bury the Hunter Biden story.
“They were aware of what happened in 2016 and all the hacked emails and stuff,” Swisher told CNN Wednesday morning, reflecting on his discussion with Roth.
While Roth disagreed with suppressing the Hunter Biden story, he defended Twitter’s other decisions to ban Trump’s activity surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, as well as the personal account and account owned by Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. to the satirical site Babylon Bee.
According to Roth, all three cases involved clear violations of Twitter’s public, written policies, and this is a clearer case for their enforcement.
Among the cuts that decimated Twitter’s content moderation team, Musk said he intended to rely more on crowdsourced fact-checking of tweets to provide context for misleading claims. But Roth said that by doing so, Twitter risks abdicating its responsibility to the public, which should still be enforced despite being a private company.
Policymakers should require platforms to share data with academics and researchers, he said, preventing private platforms like Twitter from shirking their transparency obligations.
Asked to give Musk a piece of advice going forward, Roth paused for the briefest of moments.
“Humility really goes a long way,” he said.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
— CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this report