Twitter not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety

Social media platform is also no longer enforcing its Covid-19 misleading information policy, claims Yoel Roth

Elon Musk acquired Twitter at the end of October for $44 billion. Reuters
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Twitter's former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth on Tuesday said the social media company was not safer under new owner Elon Musk, warning in his first interview since resigning this month that the company no longer had enough staff for safety work.

Mr Roth had tweeted after Mr Musk's takeover that by some measures, Twitter safety had improved under the billionaire's ownership.

Asked in an interview at the Knight Foundation conference on Tuesday whether he still felt that way, Mr Roth said: “No.”

Mr Roth was a Twitter veteran who helped steer the social media platform through several watershed decisions, including the move to permanently suspend its most famous user, former US President Donald Trump, last year.

His departure further rattled advertisers, many of whom backed away from Twitter after Mr Musk laid off half of the staff, including many involved with content moderation.

Before Mr Musk assumed the helm at Twitter, about 2,200 people globally were focused on content moderation work, said Mr Roth. He said he did not know the number after the acquisition because the corporate directory had been turned off.

Twitter under Mr Musk began to stray from its adherence to written and publicly available policies towards content decisions made unilaterally by Mr Musk, which Mr Roth cited as a reason for his resignation.

“One of my limits was if Twitter starts being ruled by dictatorial edict rather than by policy … there's no longer a need for me in my role, doing what I do,” he said.

The revamp of the Twitter Blue premium subscription, which would allow users to pay for a verified checkmark on their account, launched despite warnings and advice from the trust and safety team, Mr Roth said.

The launch was quickly beset by spammers impersonating major public companies such as Eli Lilly, Nestle and Lockheed Martin.

Mr Roth also said on Tuesday that Twitter erred in restricting the dissemination of a New York Post article that made claims about then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son shortly before the 2020 presidential election.

But he defended Twitter's decision to permanently suspend Mr Trump for risk of further incitement of violence after the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

“We saw the clearest possible example of what it looked like for things to move from online to off,” Mr Roth said. “We saw people dead in the Capitol.”

Mr Musk tweeted on November19 that Mr Trump's account would be reinstated after a slim majority voted in favour of the move in a surprise Twitter poll.

Meanwhile, Twitter has rolled back a policy that was aimed at tackling misinformation related to Covid-19 on the social media platform, lending itself to the risk of a potential surge in false claims even as cases rise in China and some parts of the world.

“Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the Covid-19 misleading information policy,” according to an update on its blog page.

The specific measures that Twitter will drop were not immediately clear, and the company did not immediately respond to a request to share more information.

At the onset of Covid in 2020, Twitter instated a number of measures including labels and warning messages on tweets with disputed information about the health crisis and a framework to have users remove tweets that advanced harmfully false claims related to vaccines.

Meta Platforms-owned Facebook and Alphabet's YouTube services employed similar measures, which are currently in place.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 6:40 AM
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