Twitter’s decision to fact check Donald Trump has resulted in has resulted in mass harassment of one of its employees — even though Twitter says the choice was made by a group, not one individual.
When Twitter opted to fact check Trump’s tweets Tuesday — a first for the company — the backlash was swift. The president tweeted that the company was “stifling free speech” and that he would “not allow it to happen.”
Then, in an interview with Fox News Wednesday morning, Kellyanne Conway singled out one Twitter employee by name: Yoel Roth, the company’s head of site integrity. Referring to him as the “head of integrity,” Conway spelled out his Twitter handle and said “somebody in San Francisco go wake him up and tell him he's about to get more followers.”
On Fox & Friends, Kellyanne Conway appears to direct online harassment at Twitter's head of site integrity, Yoel Roth: "Somebody in San Francisco will wake him up and tell him he's about to get a lot more followers." pic.twitter.com/H9ceUu6Ezv
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) May 27, 2020
Conway also claimed that Roth is “constantly attacking Trump voters,” an apparent reference to years-old tweets criticizing the Trump Administration. Fox News also seized on the comments and stated that Roth was “in charge” of Twitter’s decision to fact-check the president. Trump’s sons and Trump’s official campaign account also shared tweets singling out Roth to their millions of followers.
Twitter confirmed that Roth was not singlehandedly responsible for the decision to fact check Trump. Roth is part of Twitter’s larger trust and safety team, which makes policy decisions. As others have pointed out, Roth primarily deals with platform abuse — misuse of the company’s API, spam and bot campaigns — not fact checking or content decisions.
“No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it's unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.
But Twitter’s comments have done little to quiet the angry mob of Trump supporters, many of whom have long accused the company of being biased against conservatives. Over the last day, Roth has been inundated with harassment and even death threats, Protocol reported.
For Twitter, the incident is yet another reminder of how much work it still needs to do if it hopes to fix its harassment problem. For all of the new reply-limiting controls and anti-bullying tools, there’s little any one user can do when thousands of users swarm one person all at once.
Update (11:30 PM ET): CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that “...there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this.” He disputed a characterization that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made in an interview with Fox, saying that “This does not make us an “arbiter of truth.” Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.” Finally, he also indicated that Twitter is “updating” the link on Trump’s tweets to make it more clear why these statements may be misleading.
This does not make us an “arbiter of truth.” Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
Per our Civic Integrity policy (https://t.co/uQ0AoPtoCm), the tweets yesterday may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots). We’re updating the link on @realDonaldTrump’s tweet to make this more clear.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
We added a label to two @realDonaldTrump Tweets about California’s vote-by-mail plans as part of our efforts to enforce our civic integrity policy. We believe those Tweets could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) May 28, 2020