Twitter owner Elon Musk’s dictatorial management style risks driving the company headlong into unforced business errors, content moderation disasters and the degradation of core platform functionality that helps keep vulnerable users safe, says a former senior Twitter official who led the company’s content moderation before stepping down abruptly this month.
The social media company botched deployment of a paid verification function “is an example of a disaster that has crept in” amid the chaos Musk has brought to Twitter, and the prospect of further disasters has made it impossible to stay, said former site integrity manager Yoel Roth from the company, during an onstage interview with journalist Kara Swisher on Tuesday in his first public appearance since leaving Twitter on November 10.
Roth and other colleagues tried to warn Musk of the “obvious” problems with his plan to offer a check mark checked to any user paying $8 per month. But Musk went ahead by force of will anyway, which led to a wave of new impostor accounts impersonating big brands, athletes and other verified users who quickly took over Twitter. to suspend functionality.
“It went off the rails exactly as we expected,” Roth said.
The public musings of a senior Twitter executive who had close contact with Musk in the early days of his ownership of the company — a period marked by internal turmoil and a damaging revolt by advertisers — provide the latest evidence of a billionaire CEO who rules by his gut at the expense of virtually everyone else.
There was no explosive showdown with Musk that led to Roth’s resignation, and the episode involving Twitter’s paid verification feature was just one of many factors spurring Roth’s decision to quit. leave, he said. But the experience illustrated the kind of damage Musk’s coasting approach can do, Roth added, comparing his final weeks at the company to standing in front of a leaky dam, desperately trying to plug the holes but knowing that eventually something would overtake him.
In the hour-long interview, Roth warned Musk laissez-faire content moderation approach, and its lack of a transparent process for creating and enforcing platform policies, has made Twitter less secure, in part because there aren’t enough staff left who understand that actors Malware is constantly trying to trick the system in ways that automated algorithms don’t know how to catch.
“People don’t sit still,” he said. “They are actively designing new ways to be horrible on the internet.”
He urged Twitter users to monitor the operation of key security features such as mute, block and protect tweets as early warning signs that the platform could go down.
“If protected tweets stop working, run,” he said.
For two weeks after Musk completed his purchase of Twitter, Roth presented himself as a voice of stability and calm at the center of a changing business. Roth knew that by staying with the company, Musk was using it to keep advertisers from abandoning the platform. But Roth also suggested that he and others who did not leave Twitter could have influenced Musk and prevented him from making harmful unilateral decisions, which he had “multiple opportunities” to do.
Even though he spent his first days in the new regime to fight an “increase in hateful behavior on Twitter” apparently intended to test Musk’s tolerance of racism and anti-Semitism on the platform, Roth sought to reassure the public that Twitter’s trust and safety work continued unhindered.
He shared data on the ongoing activities of the platform enforcement effortsand minimized the impact Twitter’s massive layoffs of its content moderation team, saying the job cuts were less severe in that department compared to the organization as a whole.
As recently as Nov. 9, Roth spoke alongside Musk during an audience Twitter Spaces Event intended to persuade advertisers not to flee the platform. During the hour-long session, which was attended by more than 100,000 listeners, including representatives from Adidas, Chevron and other major brands, Roth expressed optimism about Twitter’s plans to combat the hate speech.
The very next day, Roth abruptly resignedjoining a host of other senior executives, including Twitter’s Chief Privacy Officer and Chief Information Security Officer.
In a subsequent In the New York Times op-ed, Roth said the reason for leaving was due to Musk’s very personal and off-the-cuff approach to content moderation. Roth’s essay accused Musk of perpetuating a “lack of legitimacy through his impulsive changes and tweet-length statements about Twitter rules.”
On Tuesday, Roth said the popular narrative that paints Musk as a villain is false and doesn’t reflect his own experiences with him. But, he said, Musk surrounds himself with those who rarely challenge him.
Before Musk took over Twitter, Roth wrote several pledges to himself that would trigger the decision to quit. One limit, he said — one that was never reached — was that Roth would refuse to lie for Musk. Another limit, which was eventually reached and prompted his decision to resign, was “if Twitter begins to be ruled by dictatorial decree rather than policy.”
Roth’s role on Twitter came under scrutiny in 2020 after the company added a fact-checking message to then-US President Donald Trump’s fake tweets.
Tweets that Roth sent in 2016 and 2017 that were critical of President Trump and his supporters were unearthed and used to claim that Roth and Twitter were biased against the president.
Among Roth’s tweets is one he wrote on Election Day 2016 that read, “I’m just saying we’re rolling over states that voted for a racist tangerine 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 targeted for company decisions.”
When Roth was still working on Twitter in October, Musk was asked about Roth’s old tweets.
“We’ve all tweeted dodgy, me more than most, but I want to make it clear that I’m supporting Yoel. My feeling is that he has great integrity and that we are all entitled to our political beliefs,” Musk said. tweeted.
Roth also became Twitter’s personal face and a target of harassment, after the company decided to remove a 2020 New York Post article about Hunter Biden, a move then-CEO Jack Dorsey has since declared to be an error.
“It is widely reported that I personally led the removal of the Hunter Biden story. It’s not true. It is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Roth told Swisher on Tuesday.
Roth did not feel that removing the content from Twitter was appropriate, he said, but at the time the story seemed to bear the hallmarks of a hack and leak news operation.
Roth also said Tuesday that, in retrospect, deleting the Hunter Biden story was a mistake. But he defended Twitter’s other decisions to ban Trump for his activities around the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, as well as a personal account belonging to Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and an account belonging to the satirical site Babylon Bee.
All three cases involved clear violations of Twitter’s publicly available written policies, Roth said, making this a much clearer case for the app.
Amid the layoffs that have decimated Twitter’s content moderation team, Musk said he intends to rely much more on crowdsourced fact-checking of tweets to provide context for misleading claims. But Roth said doing so risked abdicating Twitter’s responsibility to the public, which should still apply despite being a private company.
Policymakers should require platforms to share data with academics and researchers, he said, preventing private platforms such as Twitter from evading their obligation of transparency.
Asked to give Musk just one piece of advice for the future, Roth paused for a brief moment.
“Humility 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