Twitter dissolves Trust and Safety Council, Yoel Roth runs away from home

Twitter dissolves Trust and Safety Council, Yoel Roth runs away from home
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Twitter abruptly dissolved its Trust and Safety Council on Monday night, the latest sign that Elon Musk is untangling years of work and institutions created to make the social network safer and more civilized.

Members of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council received an email with the subject line “Thank you” informing them that the council was no longer “the best structure” to provide “outside perspectives on our policy and product development work.” .

The email dissolution came less than an hour before council members were expected to meet with Twitter executives via Zoom to discuss recent developments, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans. .

Dozens of civil rights leaders, academics, and advocates from around the world have volunteered their time over the years to help improve security on the platform.

“We are grateful for your commitment, advice and collaboration over the past few years and wish you every success in the future,” the email, which was simply signed “Twitter,” read.

In less than two months, Musk has undone years of investment in trust and security at Twitter. saying goodbye key parts of the workforce and bringing back the accounts which had previously been suspended. As the body disbands, Musk is tightening his grip on decisions about the future of content moderation on Twitter, with less input from outside experts.

The move is simply throwing away “years of institutional memory that we on the board have brought” to the company, said a board member, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern about harassment on the platform. “Having outside experts and advocates looking at your services makes you smarter.”

The Trust and Safety Council fell apart after Musk himself proposed the creation of a content moderation council that would have influenced key content moderation decisions, but he later appeared to change his mind about introducing such a body.

Many members were already on the verge of quitting, said Larry Magid, executive director of ConnectSafely, a Silicon Valley nonprofit that advises consumers on Internet use by children.

“By dissolving it, they fired us instead of resigning,” he said. “Elon doesn’t want criticism, and he really doesn’t want the kind of advice that you’d most likely get from a security advisory board, which would probably tell you to rehire some of the staff you got rid of and reinstate some of the rules you got rid of, and change the address of the company in which he is changing it”.

Twitter first formed the Trust and Security Council in 2016, as social networks came under increased scrutiny for their role in amplifying hate, terrorism, child exploitation and other problematic content online. The council brought together a wide range of civil society groups, think tanks and even some of Silicon Valley’s biggest critics. Twitter executives would regularly brief the board on new products in development and policies.

“I don’t understand the logic of doing this when many of these relationships were difficult to develop,” said another member, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the council’s dissolution.

Twitter’s lawyer has long weighed security and free speech. So Musk called her.

Twitter told Trust and Safety members that their “regional contact points will continue to be the best people to contact to escalate concerns.” However, Twitter’s policy and trust and security teams have been ripped apart by recent layoffs, as well as the departure of employees following an ultimatum from Musk.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which was a board member, will be “watching how they restructure,” said Gavin Portnoy, the center’s vice president.

“For now, we will continue to encourage reporting to the CyberTipline and hope to continue to have a seat at the table in addressing child safety on Twitter,” he said.

Last week, three members of the Trust and Safety Council resigned, warning that “the safety and well-being of Twitter users is in decline.”

Musk responded to replies to his tweet announcing his resignation, writing: “It’s a crime that they have refused to take action against child exploitation for years!”

Jack Dorsey, the company’s former CEO, responded to Musk, calling the claim “false.” However, Musk’s comment sparked a wave of threats and harassment against board members who left the council, as well as some who stayed.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit organization that served on the board and received funding from tech companies, said in a statement that it was “appalled by the irresponsible actions of Twitter leaders to spread misinformation about the council, who have endangered the members of the council”. and eroded any semblance of trust in the company.”

Musk’s treatment of the board reflected a wave of attacks involving a former top executive at the company over the weekend.

Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety at Twitter, and his family were forced to leave their home after Elon Musk’s tweets misrepresented Roth’s academic writing on sexual activity and children. The online mob also sent threats to people Roth had responded to on Twitter, forcing some of Roth’s family and friends to delete their Twitter accounts, according to a person familiar with Roth’s situation who spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns about Roth’s safety.

Musk’s supporters also harassed professors who reviewed Roth’s 2016 dissertation, as well as his graduate school, the University of Pennsylvania, the person said. The university did not respond to a request for comment.

As Twitter’s head of trust and security, Roth was involved in many of the platform’s decisions about which posts to remove and which accounts to suspend. His communications with other Twitter officials were released in recent days as part of what Musk calls the Twitter Files, a series of tweets by conservative journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss.

Musk’s tweets to his tens of millions of followers have for years led his supporters to deluge the targets of their anger with online threats, notably a participant in the rescue of a men’s soccer team trapped in a cave. in Thailand, whom Musk called a “fart.” guy.” But now that Musk owns one of the most powerful social networks in the world and has dismantled the division of the company that previously controlled online bullying, the stakes are even higher.

Musk recalls tweets about Roth the qanon conspiracy movement, which incorrectly claims that Democratic Party leaders run a child sex abuse ring.

“It appears Yoel is making the case for kids being able to access adult internet services in his PhD thesis,” Musk tweeted on Saturday, attaching a screenshot of Roth’s lecture.

Elon Musk Increases Criticism Of Twitter Execs, Sparking Attacks Online

In the text, Roth suggested that services like gay dating app Grindr should adopt security strategies to accommodate teens using their platforms, rather than banishing them entirely. Musk also commented on a 2010 tweet in which Roth wrote: “Can high school students give meaningful consent to have sex with their teachers?” Roth then linked to an article about a Washington State Supreme Court ruling on what age students can consent to sexual relations with their teachers.

Musk’s critical comments about Roth are something of a sea change from his early days at the company, when Roth seemed to be one of the few high-level Twitter executives Musk supported. on October 10 On January 30, the billionaire tweeted: “I want to make it clear that I support Yoel. My feeling is that he has great integrity and that we are all entitled to our political beliefs.”

And Roth seemed measured in his comments about Twitter’s new owner, seeking to reassure the public about the company’s efforts to combat hate and protect elections. He even appeared alongside Musk on a call meant to reassure advertisers.

Even after he left Twitter in November, Roth remained mum on his criticism. The warned in an op-ed in the New York Times that there was “little need” for a trust and security function in a company where “policies are defined by edict”. But he also said publicly that it was not accurate to portray Musk as the “villain of the story” in his takeover of the company.

“I think one of the things that is misleading about Elon, in particular, is that people really want him to be the villain of the story, and they want him to be unequivocally bad and wrong, and everything he says is misleading,” Roth . he said during an interview at the Knight Foundation conference. “I have to say…that was not my experience with him.”

Musk’s ‘free speech’ agenda dismantles security work at Twitter, experts say

Still, Roth is the most visible former Twitter executive assessing Musk’s stock, and his role in the company has been highlighted in the Twitter Archives.

Twitter employees have long been wary of Musk’s ability to stoke criticism online. Shortly after announcing his plans to take over the company in April, he tweeted a meme to his tens of millions of followers featuring the face of Twitter’s top lawyer, Vijaya Gadde, which seemed to suggest that the company’s decisions are affected by a “left”. bias.”

Twitter users quickly piled on, calling for Musk to fire Gadde or using racist language to describe her. Gadde was born in India and immigrated to the United States as a child. One user said that he would “go down in history as a horrible person.”

Such harassment is part of a years-long pattern for Musk, with few legal consequences to date. Musk was ultimately found not liable in a defamation lawsuit filed after he made his “pedophile boy” comments.

Joseph Menn and Naomi Nix contributed from San Francisco.

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