Twitter’s Head of Trust on Why He Resigned: Musk ‘Will Be the One Calling the Shots’

The end of Twitter seems nigh, at least if you believe the public outcry on the platform (or look at any of the trending hash tags) and elsewhere.

Quite frankly, it’s amazing to wake up and see it still there. Advertisers have fled; new rules seem to be implemented and abandoned at random; most of the staff has either been fired or left on their own free will, leaving a skeleton crew to maintain and operate the site; and Elon Musk, who spent $44 billion to buy the company, seems to be happy watching it all burn down, empty gas can in hand.

But now a first-hand account of the chaos within the company has emerged, thanks to a New York Times editorial by Yoel Roth, the former head of Trust and Safety at Twitter, who decided to leave the company once it was clear that the whims of Musk would outweigh any progress they could accomplish.

“In appointing himself ‘Chief Twit,’ Mr. Musk has made clear that at the end of the day, he’ll be the one calling the shots,” Roth wrote. “A Twitter whose policies are defined by unilateral edict has little need for a trust and safety function dedicated to its principled development.”

Somewhat shockingly, Roth said that under Musk, there are some ways in which Twitter has become more secure than it was before. This largely has to do with the fact that a dramatic course correction had to be made following Musk’s initial, looser approach to free speech (which quickly devolved into hate speech). With ad revenue plummeting, Musk tasked Roth and his team to spring into action: “Mr. Musk empowered my team to move more aggressively to remove hate speech across the platform — censoring more content, not less.”

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Musk’s utopian idea of a platform more closely resembling a town square, where ideas and concepts are lobbied back and forth without fear, has a long road to go. And Roth points out that there are several powerful forces that are at odds with this ideal – namely advertisers, but also app stores like Google and Apple that control access to Twitter and sometimes deem what is appropriate and inappropriate based on their own whims (Roth reiterates that Steve Jobs famously didn’t want porn on the Apple Store) and governmental entities and regulators. “Amid the spike in racial slurs on Twitter in the days after the acquisition, the European Union’s chief platform regulator took to the site to remind Mr. Musk that, in Europe, an unmoderated free-for-all won’t fly,” Roth wrote.

But what’s next for the embattled company?

“Some of the company’s decisions in the weeks and months to come, like the near-certainty of allowing Donald Trump’s account back on the service, will have an immediate, perceptible impact. But to truly understand the shape of Twitter going forward, I’d encourage looking not just at the choices the company makes but at how Mr. Musk makes them,” Roth wrote. “Should it materialize, will the moderation council represent more than just the loudest, predominantly American voices complaining about censorship — including, critically, the approximately 80 percent of Twitter users who reside outside of 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?”

Roth continued: “Longer term, the moderating influences of advertisers, regulators and — most critically of all — app stores may be welcome for those of us hoping to avoid an escalation in the volume of dangerous speech online. Twitter will have to balance its new owner’s goals against the practical realities of life on Apple and Google’s internet — no easy task for the employees who have chosen to remain. And as I departed the company, the calls from the app review teams had already begun.”

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