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Yoel Roth

Yoel Roth10 posts

Yoel Roth was the Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter for seven years, until he left the company shortly after Elon Musk’s takeover. He was part of the team that banned Donald Trump from the social network and marked the New York Post’s story about Hunter Biden as being unsafe.

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11 Dec, 2022

The Twitter Files 4 – The Removal of Donald Trump (Post Jan 7)

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Following the release of The Twitter Files Part 3, which detailed senior Twitter staff’s actions up to January 7, 2021, Musk, through Shellenberger, releases The Twitter Files Part 4: The removal of Donald Trump: January 7. The files details how Twitter staff  created justifications and unique policy changes so they could ban President Trump from the platform, while having no consideration for free speech issues.

After Jan 6, Michelle Obama; tech journalist Kara Swisher; the Anti-Defamation League, and many others called for Trump to be banned from Twitter. At that time, CEO Jack Dorsey was on vacation in French Polynesia and left the handling to Yoel Roth (Global Head of Trust and Safety) and Vijaya Gadde (Head off Legal, Policy & Trust).

Schellenberger notes that in 2018, 2020, and 2022, 96%, 98%, & 99% of Twitter staff’s political donations went to Democrats and that Roth had previously tweeted that there were “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE”.

On Jan 7, Dorsey emails employees to say Twitter should remain consistent in its policies, including the right of users to return to Twitter after a temporary suspension. Around 11:30am PT Roth shares with colleagues that Dorsey had approved a system where five violations (“strikes”) would result in permanent suspension.

GUESS WHAT. Jack just approved repeat offender for civic integrity.

At this point, Trump had four strikes.

On Jan 8, Twitter announces a permanent ban on Trump due to the “risk of further incitement of violence”. Twitter says its ban is based on “specifically how [Trump’s tweets] are being received & interpreted”, despite the company saying in 2019 that it did “not attempt to determine all potential interpretations of the content or its intent.”

Shellenberger notes that the only serious concern expressed within Twitter over the implications for free speech and democracy of banning Trump came from a junior person in the organization.

This might be an unpopular opinion but one off ad hoc decisions like this that don’t appear rooted in policy are imho a slippery slope… This now appears to be a fiat by an online platform CEO with a global presence that can gatekeep speech for the entire world…

Roth then asks colleagues to add “stopthesteal” & [QAnon conspiracy term] “kraken” to a blacklist of terms to be deamplified. Roth’s colleague objects that blacklisting “stopthesteal” risks “deamplifying counterspeech” that validates the election. Other employees note that Kraken is the name of a cryptocurrency exchange and allowlist it. Other struggle with shared screenshots of Trump’s tweet.

Around noon, a confused senior executive in advertising sales sends a DM to Roth.

jack says: ‘we will permanently suspend [Trump] if our policies are violated after a 12 hour account lock’… what policies is jack talking about?”

Roth replies:

*ANY* policy violation

The executive then asks if Twitter is dropping its “Public-interest exceptions” policy, which allows the content of elected officials, even if it violates Twitter rules, “if it directly contributes to understanding or discussion of a matter of public concern”. Six hours later, at 7:18pm, Roth replies:

In this specific case, we’re changing our public interest approach for his account to say any violation would result in suspension.

At 12:27am Roth pushes for a permanent suspension of Rep. Matt Gaetz even though it

doesn’t quite fit anywhere (duh)…I’m trying to talk [Twitter’s] safety [team] into… removal as a conspiracy that incites violence.

Around 2:30, comms execs DM Roth to say they don’t want to make a big deal of the QAnon ban to the media because they fear “if we push this it looks we’re trying to offer up something in place of the thing everyone wants,” meaning a Trump ban.

After an engineer expresses concerns that Trump’s account is being treated differently to others, Roth says:

To put a different spin on it: policy is one part of the system of how Twitter works… we ran into the world changing faster than we were able to either adapt the product or the policy.”

10 Dec, 2022

The Twitter Files 3 – The Removal of Donald Trump (Pre-Jan 6)

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Musk, through Taibbi, releases the third installment of The Twitter Files, titled THE REMOVAL OF DONALD TRUMP Part One: October 2020-January 6th.

The world knows much of the story of what happened between riots at the Capitol on January 6th, and the removal of President Donald Trump from Twitter on January 8th. We’ll show you what hasn’t been revealed: the erosion of standards within the company in months before J6, decisions by high-ranking executives to violate their own policies, and more, against the backdrop of ongoing, documented interaction with federal agencies. This first installment covers the period before the election through January 6th.

Taibbi provides internal Twitter messages indicating that as the election approached, senior executives – perhaps under pressure from federal agencies, with whom they met more as time progressed – increasingly struggled with Twitter’s rules, and began to speak of “vios” (violations) as pretexts to do what they’d likely have done anyway.

As described in Twitter Files 2, a core group, working above and outside of Twitter’s standard content moderation rules, would make ad hoc decisions on VITs (Very Important Tweeters).

Messages from Yoel Roth (Head of Trust & Safety) show he met weekly with the FBI, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Regarding the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story ban, Roth told those agencies:

We blocked the NYP story, then unblocked it (but said the opposite)… comms is angry, reporters think we’re idiots… in short, FML (f*ck my life).

Based on alerts sent by the FBI, Roth flagged tweets with warning labels. Taibbi says he could not find any such requests from Trump’s team or Republicans:

Examining the entire election enforcement Slack, we didn’t see one reference to moderation requests from the Trump campaign, the Trump White House, or Republicans generally. We looked. They may exist: we were told they do. However, they were absent here.

In addition to issues with Trump, Taibbi also recounts a long discussion about a joke made by Mike Huckabee about mailing in fake ballots and conversations promising to hit the actor James Woods “hard” in future, even though he had not violated any rules. Meanwhile, disputed pro-Biden tweets were approved.

Regarding Trump, Taibbi says that Twitter attached automated control “bots” to his account, which triggered automated moderation actions. Taibi says that all these bots and rules were abandoned on January 6.

The firm’s executives on day 1 of the January 6th crisis at least tried to pay lip service to its dizzying array of rules. By day 2, they began wavering. By day 3, a million rules were reduced to one: what we say, goes

Around 3:30 PST on Jan 6, Roth “bounced” (put in a 12 hr timeout) three of Trump’s tweets. A company-wide email was sent by Gadde explaining that future violations would result in a permanent suspension.

After Trump tweeted “Go home with love & in peace” mid-riot, Twitter staff wrote:

What the actual f*uck? Sorry, I actually got emotionally angry seeing that. Turns out I’m not a full robot. Who knew?

Taibbi concludes:

By the end of the first day, the top execs are still trying to apply rules. By the next day, they will contemplate a major change in approach.

Taibi says more files will be released over the coming days.

9 Dec, 2022

The Twitter Files 2: Twitter’s Secret Blacklists

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Musk, through Weiss, releases The Twitter Files Part 2, subtitled ‘Twitter’s Secret Blacklists (also called, as a joke, ‘Part Deux’ by Musk), detailing how Twitter executives and staff used internal committees and tools to blacklist and restrict access to certain Twitter accounts in secret.

Such actions were called Visibility Filtering (VF) and included blocking searches of individual users; limiting the scope of a particular tweet’s discoverability; blocking select users’ posts from ever appearing on the “trending” page and from inclusion in hashtag searches. In internal messages, Twitter employees also spoke of using technicalities to restrict the visibility of tweets and subjects.

Users did not know about these techniques. In 2018, Vijaya Gadde (then Head of Legal Policy and Trust) and Kayvon Beykpour (Head of Product) said:

We do not shadow ban.

Twitter employee:

Think about visibility filtering as being a way for us to suppress what people see to different levels. It’s a very powerful tool. We control visibility quite a bit. And we control the amplification of your content quite a bit. And normal people do not know how much we do,

Weiss details several accounts that were restricted, including conservative activist Charlie Kirk, who was set to “Do Not Amplify”; Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who argued that Covid lockdowns would harm children, was put on a “Trends Blacklist”; and the right-wing talk show host, Dan Bongino was restricted using a “Search Blacklist”.

The Files include details about two internal committes: The first group, known as the SRT-GE (Strategic Response Team – Global Escalation Team) decided whether to limit the reach of certain users. It often handled up to 200 “cases” a day. The second, which was only for the largest, most politcally-sensitive decisions, was known as SIP-PES (Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support), which included Gadde, Yoel Roth (Global Head of Trust & Safety), subsequent CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal, and others. This group operated outside of Twitter’s normal abuse ticketing system,

This latter group restricted the account of @libsoftiktok, subjecting its owner to six suspensions for ‘Hateful Conduct’, despite the committe knowing that LTT has not directly engaged in behavior that violated the Hateful Conduct policy. Weiss contrasts this with Twitter taking no action over posts that revealed the account owner’s home photo and address.

3 Dec, 2022

The Twitter Files 1: How and why Twitter blocked the Hunter Biden laptop story

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Musk releases The Twitter Files, Part One: How and Why Twitter Blocked the Hunter Biden Laptop Story, though journalist Matt Taibbi. In a 30-plus post thread, Taibbi relates how Twitter executives blocked the New York Post’s October 14, 2020, Hunter Biden laptop story, using the excuse that it was ‘hacked’, despite having received no notification or confirmation from law enforcement that the laptop actually was hacked. The posts were given warnings and were blocked from being to be shared on Twitter’s direct message system. Taibbi says that executives did this without CEO Dorsey’s knowledge.

The posts details how political parties were able to contact Twitter executives to censor stories, and show communications between ex-staff, including Gadde, Roth, discussing the block.

30 Nov, 2022

Roth: Musk running Twitter ‘like a dictator’

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Speaking at an event hosted by the Knight Foundation, Roth, the former head of Trust and Saftey at Twitter, says the social networking site had started to stray from adhering to publicly available policies towards decisions made by Musk alone.

19 Nov, 2022

Roth: Twitter ‘safer’ under Musk than before

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In an op-ed in the New York Times, Roth says Twitter is safer under Musk’s ownership:

Almost immediately upon the acquisition’s close, a wave of racist and antisemitic trolling emerged on Twitter. Wary marketers, including those at General Mills, Audi and Pfizer, slowed down or paused ad spending on the platform, kicking off a crisis within the company to protect precious ad revenue. In response, Mr. Musk empowered my team to move more aggressively to remove hate speech across the platform — censoring more content, not less. Our actions worked: Before my departure, I shared data about Twitter’s enforcement of hateful conduct, showing that by some measures, Twitter was actually safer under Mr. Musk than it was before.”

His ability to make decisions unilaterally about the site’s future is constrained by a marketing industry he neither controls, nor has managed to win over.

However:

[Even as Musk] criticizes the capriciousness of platform policies, he perpetuates the same lack of legitimacy through his impulsive changes and tweet-length pronouncements about Twitter’s rules. In appointing himself ‘chief twit,’ Mr. Musk has made clear that at the end of the day, he’ll be the one calling the shots. It was for this reason that I chose to leave the company: A Twitter whose policies are defined by edict has little need for a trust and safety function dedicated to its principled development.

10 Nov, 2022

Roth resigns from Twitter

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Roth quits Twitter, after two weeks under Musk’s leadership. He changes his bio to:

Former Head of Trust & Safety at @Twitter.

31 Oct, 2022

Musk defends Roth

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After the disclosure of internal Twitter communications by Roth, that Musk says showed other Twitter staff hiding evidence, Musk defends Roth.

We’ve all made some questionable tweets, me more than most, but I want to be clear that I support Yoel. My sense is that he has high integrity, and we are all entitled to our political beliefs.

Musk: Twitter lawyers hid evidence

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Musk shares internal Twitter communications that he says were hidden by Twitter’s lawyers, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The messages were written by Yoel Roth, Head of Safety & Integrity at Twitter, apparently about Amir Shevat, Head of Product, alleging Shevat was using ‘fraudulent metrics’ and may be actively trying to hide the ball’, which was what Musk was accusing the company of. Roth’s messages:

But also lol if Amir continues to BS me my escalation route is “Amir’s OKRs are entirely based on fraudulent metrics ad he doesn’t care an may be actively trying to hide the ball”

Literally doing what Elon is accusing us of doing

Musk says:

Wachtell & Twitter board deliberately hid this evidence from the court. Stay tuned, more to come …

Musk later clarifies that he supports Roth:

I want to be clear that I support Yoel. My sense is that he has high integrity, and we are all entitled to our political beliefs.