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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 1°C
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Yoel Roth

Elon Musk has 'ambivalent' stance on misinformation and harassment, ex-Twitter safety chief claims

Yoel Roth, who left the company in the wake of Musk’s takeover, made the claims today.

TWITTER’S FORMER SAFETY chief has claimed that Elon Musk has an “ambivalent” attitude towards misinformation and that the company has undergone a “stunning transformation” under the billionaire’s ownership.

Yoel Roth, who served as Twitter’s Head of Trust and Safety until November last year, believes that his former department, whose tasks included fighting misinformation, is no longer operational.

He says that while Musk initially indicated that he understood the risks posed by misinformation to democracies around the world, it didn’t take long before changes at the company removed safeguards against fake news and harassment.

“I saw the painful progress that the company had made in addressing – imperfectly – issues of disinformation, of harassment, of abuse,” Roth said at the GlobalFact 10 conference in Seoul.

“We didn’t solve these problems, but we made painful, small amounts of progress against them.

“And to then see those teams eviscerated and that work rolled back so comprehensively, in such a short period of time, is really a stunning transformation.”

Roth stood down weeks after Musk took control of the social media giant in a $44 billion deal, after which he vowed to row back on content moderation.

Asked how different things are in the Trust and Safety department since his departure, Roth described its operations as “non-existent”.

He said Musk initially understood the challenges posted by misinformation, particularly around the presidential election in Brazil and the US mid-terms.

“An interesting thing that happened, actually, in my first conversation with Elon Musk, [was that] the very first time I met him, he understood some of those challenges,” he said.

“Even after everything that’s happened [...] I don’t want to undermine the fact that when it came to some of the risks of electoral violence in Brazil in particular, even Elon understood what might happen.

“And he articulated readily that he didn’t want Twitter to be a cause of violence in Brazil, which completely caught me off guard, and sort of underscored this really ambivalent relationship that he seems to have with misinformation, with security work, and with trust and safety more generally.”

Roth also said that Twitter’s role had changed since Musk’s takeover, suggesting that it was no longer a place where people would seek out breaking news. 

“It’s hard to imagine a breaking news event not happening on Twitter,” he said.

“Twitter is what’s happening now; it is the breaking news platform [...] But it’s also built on an ecosystem of people who contribute the news and help make it happen.

“It’s built on open APIs that make data about the news available to people who want to understand it. And so much of that has been eroded so quickly…

“I think Twitter’s role in the world is fundamentally different now than it has been for the last 15 years.”

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