A former Twitter employee has provided perhaps the most in-depth look at the Elon Musk acquisition, detailing why he left a top job and sharing some parting thoughts on the platform’s new direction after the tech billionaire had taken the reins.
Yoel Roth, a former head of Twitter’s trust and security team who left the company of his own volition, recently commented in the New York Times Details on his exit and sharing an interesting prediction for the platform.
He explained his team’s role is to design the rules of Twitter and apply them consistently to hundreds of millions of tweets every day.
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“In my more than seven years with the company, we’ve uncovered government-backed troll farms that meddle in elections, introduced new tools to contextualize dangerous misinformation and, yes, banned President Trump from the service,” Roth said.
“Cornell professor Tarleton Gillespie called teams like mine the “governors of the internet”.
“The work of online hygiene is relentless and controversial.”
Roth continued to recount his brief stint at Post-Musk Twitter.
“Since closing the deal on 10/27, many of the changes introduced by Mr. Musk and his team have been sudden and alarming to employees and users alike, including quick layoffs and an ill-fated attempt to reinvent Twitter’s verification system,” he wrote.
Before and during the acquisition, Musk stressed the importance of “free speech to democracy” and praised Twitter as “a digital town square where important issues affecting the future of humanity are discussed,” which many believed meant relaxed rules and content moderation.
But Roth said despite recent office closures, more resignations, the trend of #RIPTwitter, and whether or not Musk’s “skeleton crew” could stabilize the platform, content moderation has remained “largely the same” since the acquisition.
“Twitter’s rules continue to prohibit a broad spectrum of ‘lawful but terrible’ speech,” Roth said.
“Mr Musk has publicly insisted that the company’s practices and policies remain unchanged.
“Are we just getting started – or has the self-proclaimed absolutist of free speech changed his mind?
“The truth is that even Elon Musk’s brand of radical transformation has unavoidable limitations.”
One of several binding clauses, Roth said, would keep advertisers, who generate 90 percent of the platform’s revenue, on the site.
“Twitter has no choice but to act in a way that doesn’t compromise the revenue streams that keep the lights on. That’s already proven challenging,” Roth speculated, claiming that shortly after the deal closed, a “wave of racist and anti-Semitic trolling surfaced on Twitter.”
“Cautious marketers, including those at General Mills, Audi and Pfizer, have slowed or suspended ad spending on the platform, creating a crisis at the company to protect valuable ad revenue,” Roth said.
He claimed. Musk ordered the Trust and Safety team to “take aggressive action” to remove hate speech in response.
“Prior to my departure, I shared data on Twitter’s enforcement of hateful behaviors, showing that Twitter was actually safer under Mr Musk than before,” he explained.
“His ability to unilaterally make decisions about the future of the site is constrained by a marketing industry he neither controls nor has been able to win over.”
And Roth said advertisers aren’t the only parties Musk needs to keep happy in his mission to “free the bird.”
“Twitter remains bound by the laws and regulations of the countries in which it operates,” Roth said.
“Amid the rise of racial slurs on Twitter in the days following the takeover, the European Union’s top platform regulator took to the site to remind Mr Musk that an unmoderated free-for-all will not fly in Europe.”
Members of the US Congress and the Federal Trade Commission also took offense at some of the changes.
“Mr. Musk’s policy of aligning Twitter’s policies with local laws could lead the company to censor speech it has been reluctant to restrict in the past, including political dissent,” Roth wrote.
“Regulators have significant tools to get their way on Twitter and against Mr Musk.
“Penalties for not complying with the European digital services law could amount to up to 6 percent of the company’s annual turnover. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has shown an increasing willingness to impose significant fines for non-compliance with its orders (like a blockbuster $5 billion fine imposed on Facebook in 2019).”
Roth also said that Apple’s and Google’s app stores for phones and tablets, which have their own community guidelines, also pose a massive risk to Twitter’s bottom line.
Tick them off or violate their terms of service, Roth warned, and being kicked out of app stores would prove “catastrophic.”
Why did Roth leave Twitter after surviving the job wipeout?
“A Twitter whose policies are defined by unilateral edict hardly needs a trust and security function dedicated to its principled development,” he said.
“To really understand the future shape of Twitter, I would recommend looking not just at the decisions the company is making, but also at how Mr. Musk is making them.
“If it happens, will the Moderation Council represent more than just the loudest, most American voices complaining about censorship — including, critically, the roughly 80 percent of Twitter users who live outside the United States?
“Will the company continue to invest in features like community notes that engage Twitter users in the work of platform governance?
“Will Mr. Musk’s tweets announcing policy changes become less frequent and more abrupt?”
Roth believed that one of Musk’s biggest challenges was reconciling his goals with the “practical realities of life on the Apple and Google internet.”
“It’s not an easy task for the employees who have chosen to stay,” he said.
“And by the time I left the company, the calls from the app review teams had already started.”
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