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Twitter’s former head of safety says platform is less safe under Elon Musk

Yoel Roth said Musk was warned Twitter Blue verification would go disastrously wrong.
A view of the Twitter logo at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 18, 2022.
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Karissa Bell
Karissa Bell|@karissabe|November 29, 2022 8:14 PM

In his first public interview since abruptly quitting Twitter, Yoel Roth, the company’s former head of trust and safety, said he believes the platform is less safe under Elon Musk. Speaking at an event hosted by the Knight Foundation, Roth responded “I don’t,” when asked if he still believed Twitter was safer since Musk’s takeover.

Roth’s comments are especially notable because he was one of the only top executives publicly discussing what was happening on Twitter in the chaotic days following Musk’s takeover. Roth, a longtime member of Twitter’s policy team, detailed the coordinated trolling campaign that caused a surge in racist slurs on the platform. Musk often highlighted his tweets and pointed to his explanations about what Twitter was doing to stop the racist attacks.

But Roth said that although he was initially optimistic, a breakdown in “procedural legitimacy” ultimately caused him to leave. He noted that Musk had stated he wanted to form a "moderation council” before making major policy decisions at Twitter, but Musk quickly showed he would rather make decisions on his own.

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“He would say things that were consistent with establishing a moderation council, that were consistent with not making capricious, unilateral decisions, and I was optimistic on the basis of that,” Roth said. “My optimism ultimately faded.”

Roth also pointed to the botched rollout of Twitter Blue and paid verification, saying that his team had warned Musk ahead of time but he opted to ignore their concerns. “It went exactly off the rails in the way that we anticipated, and there weren't the safeguards that needed to be in place to address it upfront,” Roth said, referring to the surge in scams and impersonations that followed the initial rollout of Twitter Blue.

Roth’s comments come as Musk is gearing up to relaunch Twitter Blue verification later this week. In his latest comments, Musk has said there will be different colors of badges for businesses and individuals, and that there will be a manual authentication process of some kind.

While Roth said he doesn’t believe Twitter will have a “spectacular moment of failure” as some former employees haves peculated following mass layoffs and resignations at the company, he said users should pay close attention to whether key safety features, like blocking and muting, continue to function normally, as well as privacy-protecting features like protected tweets. “If protected tweets stop working, run, because it's a symptom that something is deeply wrong,” he said.

He also said that while Twitter may be able to improve its machine learning systems, the lack of veteran policy and safety employees at the company would hurt the platform.

“Are there enough people who understand the emergent malicious campaigns that happen on the service and understand it well enough to guide product strategy and policy direction,” he said. “I don't think that there are enough people left at the company who can do that work.”

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Twitter’s former head of safety says platform is less safe under Elon Musk